What they’re not saying
Mike Deasy looks at what candidates seeking election to the Racehorse Owners Association board are not saying, bookmakers staking big money and the hard sell that is British racing
It’s that time of year when racehorse owners can stand for election to the board of the Racehorse Owners Association.
In order to get elected (members can vote for up to three candidates) those standing must provide a manifesto.
As well as presenting their credentials for being elected to the board, they also need to address the key issues facing owners which invariably centre on two bug-bears – prize-money and racecourse experience – and what they would do to address the situation.
But there is also a growing theme in a number of manifestos and a welcome addition – equine welfare.
Also regularly cited is the mantra that without owners, there would be no racing. I’d really like someone to say that without punters there would be no racing.
For as long as I’ve been an ROA member, I don’t recall anyone making firm proposals on how they’d tackle the prize-money challenge, just that it needs resolving.
But the ROA itself has come under scrutiny in recent months, mostly concerning the money it received from the Levy to produce a strategy for racing which, when published, met with a cool reception to say the least.
Then there was the money for a new brand to help attract new owners. That project bit the dust and the money was instead spent on a rebrand for the ROA.
So, this year there’s an elephant in the room and would any candidates point it out?
Richard Gurr decided against any mention of the problems facing racing or the ROA, and placed the emphasis on his involvement in and love of racing, finishing his manifesto by saying: “Having been an owner for many years, I believe that I have the knowledge and ability to make a major contribution to the ROA and hope that I will be given an opportunity by being selected.”
Confidently put Richard, but somewhat lacking in, er, detail.
Mouse Hamilton-Fairley, she’ll need the longest placename if elected, does have a tilt at the ROA but in the context of allowing owners to the racecourse during lockdowns, saying: “During the pandemic, whilst acknowledging the difficulties prevalent because of government restrictions, I believe the ROA fell short of ensuring the majority of owners felt truly valued when we continued to fund the sport’s existence.”
There are other sports whose fans fared even worse than racehorse owners, and probably looked on enviously as owners were permitted into racecourses, albeit in small numbers.
Someone who should know a bit about manifestos is MP Philip Davies (pictured), who represents Shipley in Yorkshire for the Conservatives.
He concisely sums up the issues facing racing and says with his experience of sitting in the Commons he “can bring a great deal of insight to the ROA on the situation in Parliament and how best to influence the decisions which are made there.”
If voted onto the board Davies would probably want to see an end to the criticism directed at the ROA – it’s not good for a politician to be caught up in suggestions that money has been inappropriately spent.
One thing which Davies doesn’t mention by name is the reform of gambling. That’s left to David Carey but he says: “the most pressing matter at present must be the impact on racing by the pandemic.”
That may be the case “at present”, but the threat of the government’s review of gambling has the potential to be disastrous in the long-term.
Maybe Mr Davies could have a word.
Bookies staking big money
Now that there are no remaining hurdles to jump, Caesars Entertainment have completed their acquisition of William Hill for approaching £3bn and will leverage the company’s know-how to expand their share of the North American sports betting market.
Of more interest this side of the pond is who’s going to get their hands on the non-US Hill’s business given that Caesars are going to dispose of everything outside of the States.
The Done brothers, who own Betfred, are known to be in the running, not least because they built up a shareholding in Hills and will have realised a handsome profit given the rise in Hill’s stock when they were being courted by rival bidders.
But Caesars are not breaking up the non-US business so those who want just part of the empire, eg shops, might have to wait to see if a purchaser wants to own the entire business or sell it off in parts. The probability of the parts being greater value than the sum could make this an attractive option. Those only interested in the parts will be hoping that’s the case.
Maybe someone could open a book in the style of Hill’s veteran Graham Sharpe and pioneer of non-sports betting, on who might end up with what, assuming there’s no exploitation of insider knowledge.
Meanwhile, Entain, owners of Corals and Ladbrokes, have been persuaded that their offer price for the wager and media business of Australia’s Tabcorp merits Aus$3.5bn, an extra half-billion compared to the initial offer which got short-shrift from Aussie pool betting operator.
If Entain are successful, it will rocket them to being Australia’s biggest sports betting undertaking with 50% market share. However, the most expected outcome is a demerger of the Tabcorp wagering and media business, with private equity money also seen as a preferred option.
It’s been a mixed week for Flutter Entertainment, whose brands include Betfair and Paddy Power. Time magazine announced their inclusion in its top 200 influential businesses of 2020.
“Nowhere has our growth been more evident than in the U.S.,” says CEO Peter Jackson (pictured). Even with sports schedules curtailed in 2020, Flutter’s US revenue rose by 81% to almost $1 billion, in a market it forecasts reaching $20 billion by 2025. And in the US, Flutter have signed up just short of one million users for its app.
Overall, Flutter has reported a 33% year-on-year increase in total group revenue to £1.49bn for Q1 2021.
Whilst Flutter was being lauded by Time magazine, CEO Jackson was coming under fire in his home country for the mega pay-rise he was due to receive.
Ahead of the Dublin-based company’s annual meeting, Institutional Shareholder Services expressed “concerns” about Jackson’s 17.5% pay rise. His salary has leapt to €1.03m. Add bonuses and last year Jackson raked in €7.5m – and increase of nearly 260% on 2019.
What’s behind the concern is the increase being paid in one go. “It is considered good practice to phase in significant increases, particularly after such a large transition, in order for the deal (Flutter’s merger with Star Group) to properly bed in and confirm its value” said Institutional Shareholder Services.
A hard sell
Great British Racing is charged with promoting racing to existing and potential racegoers, the media and, in the case of overseas interests, the merits of having runners in Britain, buying British and breeding in Britain.
On having runners in Britain, GBR International will be pleased to see that prize money at the major Flat fixtures is being increased, as already announced by Ascot, Epsom, Goodwood and York.
Whilst there’s been much to generate media interest these past months, it’s not all been British driven, with the Irish dominance at the Cheltenham Festival and then a near whitewash in the Grand National grabbing the headlines.
Nevertheless, Great British Racing’s quarterly international magazine, The British Briefing, was keen to point out how well things went on the first day at Cheltenham, with Sulamani siring Honeysuckle and Black Tears being the daughter of Jeremy.
But after that things went a bit quiet, and not even the Paul Nicholls-trained Punchestown Gold Cup winner Clan Des Obeaux offers much help – he’s French bred.