The Racecourse Association (RCA) is proposing a fixture revolution from 2006 in a bid to modernise British racing.

The association would like to introduce a bidding process where racecourses could compete for BHB fixtures. The changes would make racing fixtures more flexible and competitive.

“There are two types of fixtures in racing: those which racecourses own and some 200 additional fixtures which have been introduced over time and are part of the BHB. BHB fixtures are what courses should bid for based on prize money,” explains RCA Chairman David Thorpe. “Whoever bids the most, gets it. It’s a way to get the best prize money into the sport.”

The RCA’s Executive and Race Planning Group, together with the BHB executive and the Levy Board, would define how the bidding would work.

The second recommendation from the RCA is to scrap the 50-mile-rule from 2006. At the moment, racecourses that are situated within a 50-mile radius cannot host races on the same day. The association has made a formal request to the BHB for this change to go ahead, as well as submitting the concept of bidding for fixtures.

Both proposals are in line with the Modernisation of British Racing reform, which the BHB put forward last year to satisfy the Office of Fair Trading’s demands for greater competition in the sport. The RCA sees this move as a key step in the modernisation process, which suffered a setback when the European Court of Justice ruled against the BHB on a data rights case, potentially depriving the industry of its licensing revenues.

“Since the ECJ judgement affected racing’s funding, we have not been able to proceed with the Modernisation of British Racing proposal, so we suggested we make a start and that we should make a start with fixtures,” says Thorpe.

Meanwhile, BHB Chairman Martin Broughton has suggested substituting the Levy with a statutory contribution, which bookmakers and betting agencies would pay to the racing industry.

Unless extended, the Levy will cease in March 2006, but the ECJ judgement has scuppered plans to replace it with data-licensing payments, leading the BHB to cut costs for about £8.7m in 2005. Speaking at the Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s Annual General Meeting, Broughton has now recommended introducing a new form of statutory contribution.

“Bookmakers make substantial profits from betting on horseracing and accept the need to make a contribution to the cost of putting on the ‘Racing Show’ and their ability to have access to not just the data but racing in its full format,” he said. “We will therefore be proposing the introduction of a Contribution to Racing by betting operators. That is, a contribution to the cost of putting on the racing show – which we suggest should be 10% of gross profits for bookmakers (equal to the Levy) and at an appropriate equivalent level for betting exchanges.

“Obviously, this cannot be simply a voluntary contribution. Bookmakers would only pay if all bookmakers agreed to pay and therefore it needs to be enforceable in some way. Our proposal would require a simple statutory instrument requiring licensing authorities to have proof that any betting entity was fulfilling its contribution obligation before renewing its betting licence. This is similar to the current requirement to be fulfilling the obligation to pay the Levy as a condition to [licensing].”

A statutory contribution would only secure British funding, while overseas revenues would remain at risk unless the BHB manage to win their data rights case against William Hill when it is heard at the Court of Appeal later in the year.

“Once we establish a mechanism for going forward [with a statutory contribution] in the UK we can examine options for extending it overseas,” said a confident Broughton. However, he added, “this means we still need to budget very prudently in the short-term.”