Colin Russell: Racecourses rule supreme

Runners Pass The Grandstand On The First Circuit In The Totesport Com Chester Cup With Eventual Winner Mamlook And Richard Hughes Number 6

“Courses try to get away with paying as little as they can get away with”

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

Our columnist says there are plenty of reasons why tracks have never had it so good

WHICH is the most influential body in racing: the BHA, the major bookmakers or the Horsemen’s Group? The answer, none of them – it’s the racecourses. They wield more power than any and the worrying thing is so often it’s in their own interests and not for racing as a whole.

Racecourses are our exchequer. They hold the purse strings because just about all monies that come into racing from outside sources are channelled through them.

Consider it. Racecourses receive money from the Levy Board as grants, mainly for prize-money; money from media rights; gate money; sponsorship money; money from owners through entries and declarations; money from the Tote; money from the bookmakers and money from catering rights. As Harold Macmillan almost told the nation nearly 60 years ago, ‘they’ve never had it so good’.

In addition to all those revenue streams, the jewels in their crown – at present anyway – are their fixtures. Since 2004 racecourses have effectively owned 1,200 of the yearly dose of 1,400-plus fixtures and where you have a fixture you have money. They own the ‘historic’ fixtures, ones established before 2004, and although each track effectively has its own meetings, if it is part of a group like Arena Racing Company, then the group owns them.

‘Racecourses rule supreme’

That’s how this month’s ‘saturation Saturday’ came about when the Darley July Cup was moved so it clashed with John Smith’s Cup day. Newmarket didn’t have a fixture that day, but Nottingham did and Jockey Club Racecourses run both, so they moved the Nottingham day to Newmarket. So we now have Newmarket alongside Ascot, Chester and York. Whatever anguish that concentration of meetings causes there is nothing anyone can do about it – the racecourses rule supreme.

Every year since Newmarket barged in on that particular Saturday the debate has raged about how bad the situation has been for racing. The bookmakers have produced statistics showing it isn’t in racing’s best interests, but just when we thought common sense was going to prevail and it might be moved to its traditional slot of Thursday, JCR and Newmarket backtracked, so it looks as though we’ll have the same fixture conglomeration for the foreseeable future.

Racecourse power is why we get other silly clashes such as Kempton and Lingfield racing on the same day. Southwell and Nottingham is another example – one owned by Arc, the other by JCR. They are 15.6 miles apart and last month raced on the same day. Punters think it’s stupid, horsemen think it’s stupid, but the racecourses and its association, the RCA, don’t seem to care.

They seem to act like spoilt kids – what is theirs is theirs and they don’t worry about how it affects anyone else.

The way they treat their on-course bookmakers is another example. With betting exchanges and phone betting, turnover on course is really suffering. So what do racecourses do? They put up their charges for bookmakers or at least have the option to do so. Whereas the ceiling for a daily betting permit used to be five times the admission price of the relevant enclosure, now it can be up to ten times the price.

One rule for bookmakers and another for racecourses

One of the good deeds initiated by Arc in order to prevent any accusations of their clientele being ripped off was to insist all on-course bookmakers bet to standard terms. No problems there.

But on the other hand, the three courses who have no Tote and run their own betting systems pay ten per cent less than SP without actually making it clear. It seems there is one rule for bookmakers and another for racecourses.

On the plus side, however, those three courses – Ripon, Chester and Bangor – are well to the fore in the prize-money stakes but, despite the multi-revenue streams other tracks have at their disposal, they seem to try to get away with paying out as little as they can get away with.

Any thoughts new BHA chief executive Nick Rust might try to rein in the racecourses dissipated over the Newcastle affair. It seems the course will be transformed into the north’s all-weather venue, not because it is the best or most suitable – it is probably one of the least suitable – but because Arc considered that it was in its best interests to do it.

Rust appeared to endorse Arc’s actions and made no mention of the main controversy surrounding the scheme, the destruction of the turf track. When he added he thought attendances would increase, it makes you wonder how many all-weather meetings he has attended.

There is a move afoot for a formal tripartite agreement between the BHA, Horsemen’s Group and the racecourses for running racing. It’s hardly surprising the RCA, representing the racecourses, is dragging its feet. It’s like trying to get David Cameron to share government with Labour and the Scottish Nationalists when he has no need to. He at least had a mandate; the racecourses and the RCA do not.


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