Racing boycott caused by prize money row reaches temporary truce

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  • An ongoing dispute over cuts to prize money between racehorse owners and trainers and Arena Racing Company (ARC), which owns a number of racecourses around Britain, has reached a temporary truce.

    It follows a boycott of five ARC meetings by both owners and trainers that led to significantly fewer runners across the cards. Trainers involved in the boycott opted to not enter their horses at ARC meetings, to make a stand against the decision to reduce prize money.

    Race meetings at the ARC-owned Fontwell and Lingfield on 6 March were among those affected, with the combined number of runners totalling just 42 horses across the two cards.

    ARC’s cut in prize money came after the government’s decision to lower the maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals. ARC is, therefore, preparing for an expected shortfall in the media rights payments it receives from bookmakers as a result of this, which comes into effect from 1 April.

    This reduction in prize money meant a further payment from the Horserace Betting Levy Board was then not triggered, resulting in significantly reduced prize money in all class four to six races.

    ARC have now agreed to reinstate the 2018 prize-money levels for March, which will allow the levy board money to be released, to allow for some breathing space while further discussions take place.

    “ARC and the National Trainers Federation [NTF] are pleased to announce that, to allow further constructive discussions between the two parties, ARC will commit to unlock [funds allocated by the levy board for] all eligible races for March,” said a statement from ARC on 2 March.

    Epsom trainer Jim Boyle explained to H&H the reasons behind the boycott.

    “It was initially driven by owners, who found entering their horses for races with particularly low-level prize money unsustainable and unjustifiable — after the cost of entry fees, jockey fees and transport, for example,” he said.

    “Trainers, en masse, decided it was not acceptable to be racing for such low prize money — especially as the new legislation doesn’t come into play until April, and as trainers, we felt ARC were ‘jumping the gun’. It’s important that horsemen receive a proper return for their efforts and, with the cuts implemented by ARC, that just wasn’t happening.

    “Not entering our horses for suitable races is not something owners and trainers wanted to do — after all, it means our horses are losing out on opportunities to run, and potentially win. However, there was such a strength in feeling that the vast majority of trainers decided we had to make a stand.”

    A “constructive meeting” was held on Tuesday (5 March) between the parties involved in the boycott saga.

    “A meeting was staged between representatives of the British Horseracing Authority [BHA], racecourses and horsemen,” said a BHA spokesman. “A range of measures were agreed in principle with the aim of maintaining 2018 prize-money levels through the remainder of 2019 — though further steps are required before an agreement is finalised before the end of March.

    “A further meeting has been arranged to continue to develop the industry’s approach to the changing media rights landscape.”

    Continued below…

    Jim and a number of his fellow trainers, including Ann Duffield, Ralph Beckett and Stuart Williams, plus NTF chief executive Rupert Arnold joined other industry representatives on Tuesday to discuss potential solutions to the issues about prize money and a future funding strategy.

    “It was a positive meeting,” said a NTF spokesman. “All parties present committed to ensuring prize money is maintained at 2018 levels throughout 2019.

    “Prize-money agreements will be reintroduced and progress was made towards racecourses providing transparency of media rights income.”

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