Looking at social media today, there seems a growing discontent around the levels of prize money paid out at the lower end of the racing calendar. I say “lower end”, but in truth it is the end of the sport which actually supports the remainder, particularly in the Winter season where there is a choice of low runner NH racing or flood-lit all weather racing to see us (and the levy) over the dark months.
Much of the discontent comes with Arena Racing Company or ARC as it is better known. This racecourse owner’s decision to cut prize money in response to the yet to happen FOBT stake cap has figured prominently in my own pages and those of many others. This evening (Monday) every race at ARC owned Newcastle will pay winning connections less than £3000. At Sedgefield (another ARC track) Thursday’s Class 5 handicap hurdle will pay just £2274 to winning connections. Due to the woefully low prize money, the appearance money which is unlocked for horses after prize money exceeds a certain level will not be available either.
Prize Money Distribution
The table below shows the ratio of prize money distributed by class of race. What it does not show is the number of races in each category. This of course means that whilst the table shows the percentage, the per race prize fund is massively higher at the top end than the table suggests. By numbers, around 80% of the race program is for class 4 and below races. With 1500 fixtures this year, at an average of 6 races per meeting, that equates to 7200 of the total 9000 races planned.
As you will see from the table, these races are allocated just 35% of the prize fund in 2019. Nick Rust points out that this is “boosted” to this level by the introduction of the appearance money scheme by around 5%. £165million was paid out from all sources in prize money in 2018 meaning 7200 races received around £57.75million, whilst 1800 races received £107.25million. Of course this is somewhat skewed as in reality, the prize fund includes entry stakes and sponsorship funding – the highest of which will be at the highest levels of the sport, further boosting funds at this level. Obviously with ARC courses rarely paying appearance money by falling short of the unlock figure, the true distribution at ARC courses is far worse – and is to the further detriment of class 4 to 7 horses due to these being the races which attract the appearance money.
What can we do?
The National Trainers Federation were the first of the Horseman groups to communicate their dissatisfaction with ARC, and I know there is similar sentiment at the TBA and ROA. From Nick Rust at the BHA, I am also aware that they are far from happy either. The issue is of course that the racing fixtures have been agreed and therefore ARC cannot be dispossessed of the races. Neither can these Horseman groups be seen to launch a boycott against ARC, as this would cause a likely court case and is not something these organisations could recommend given their role in the industry. However, there is nothing stopping their members failing to enter horses at ARC tracks. It is not just owners who go inadequately rewarded after all, but also those who share a percentage of any purse – trainers, stable staff, jockeys and ultimately breeders all rely on a healthy and fair system of prize money; many of them as a matter of business survival. One meeting, with a horse entered in each race (after all we would not want ARC to save the prize money altogether), and the BHA denying any future right for ARC races to be divided due to numbers, would send the right message. If individuals work together, then the Horseman groups can support this action without fear of legal reprisal, and perhaps ARC will see that to survive they need horses and owners.
Back to the drawing board
What is apparent from the various communications I have received and seen elsewhere is that the number of races in the calendar exceed any form of sustainable level. With total prize money at its highest level, we are seeing connections paid less than they were 10 years ago in many cases. Simple long division will show that the numbers of races are madness. Add to this the quality of coverage on Racing TV since the beginning of the year. I am fully aware that they also show Irish racing, with the argument being that TV coverage pays for the levy through TV rights and betting income. However, the numbers of races means that this channel cannot hope to cover all the races at once, and when they do, it is with no depth around the horses or the people – a dimension which has paid dividends for ITV coverage; attracting new viewers – and maybe even new owners as a result. My hope is that we see a cut in races in the next round of scheduling in order to ensure larger fields (and therefore a bigger each way betting market) and better returns for connections. Less is more!