British horseracing is suffering a financial crisis that could hit prize-money, fixtures and the 100,000 people working directly and indirectly in the industry.

Two weeks ago, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that the 2011 fixture list, which should be released by mid-July, would be delayed because of uncertainty around the levy income.

Then on 14 July, a budget of £70million was confirmed for next year by the the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB), a significant drop from this year’s figure of £94.5m.

“Now a budget has been agreed we will work closely with the BHA as to how the £70m should be spent. And the process for the fixture planning can recommence,” said the HBLB’s Alan Delmonte.

The sport is funded by a levy of 10% on bookmakers’ profits. But the levy has dropped by more than a third in the past two years, with the BHA claiming the betting industry should pay more after exploiting loopholes, such as moving online betting offshore to avoid levy payment.

“This is massively frustrating,” said BHA chief executive Nic Coward. “It is not fair that people working in racing should suffer as a result of the betting industry looking to bypass the levy to maximise their profits.

“Setting fixtures now could ultimately result in racing being left out of pocket.”

Bookies argue they should pay less as they already invest large amounts in media images and sponsorship.

Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers’ Federation, added: “Prize-money, a yard’s key income, has dropped over the years, while at the same time the cost of fielding a runner has gone up. If this carries on, large numbers of trainers will go out of business.”

The fixture list delay has meant jockeys, trainers, racecourses and stable staff are unable to plan for next year.

It was also recently suggested by the BHA that the 2011 fixture list — which would normally have more than 1,500 meetings — could be cut by as many as 250 fixtures, in the worst case scenario.

Paul Fisher, from Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “It is important to have certainty over fixtures and funding to plan. Anything that delivers a further blow is something racing can ill afford.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (22 July, ’10)