Racing looking into a £17m hole
You have to ask if any other sport would unexpectedly find a £17m hole in its income unless there has been a touch of the ‘Patisserie Valeries’ going on.
But that’s what happened with the 2018/19 levy, the central funding system of the sport derived from bookmakers’ gross profits. A poor fourth-quarter for bookmakers, resulting in much reduced profits, is at the heart of the decline in contributions to the levy.
The Levy Board, responsible for a significant share of prize-money and for integrity services funding, had already said that expenditure would have to be cut by £5m. Now things are going to be even tighter.
And, that’s without the expected drop in media rights income to racecourses due to the anticipated closure of betting shops as the cut in maximum FOBT gaming machine stakes from £100 to £2 begins to bite.
Anyone running a business would have to answer to the stakeholders for a sudden and unexpected drop in income. How is it that such a decline wasn’t at least considered as a worse-case scenario?
It is, however, only the second year of the levy after reforms introduced by the government and it follows a better than expected first year’s yield of £94.7m. For 2018/19 it is £78m. What’s not known at the moment is whether the levy is going to continue to be volatile, or settle down.
And it is possible that a levy base on gross-profits is at the mercy of reduced margins if, say, bookmakers chose to make racing a loss-leader for other betting opportunities.
The latter has certainly been a concern to many in the sport.
But the biggest question now is what does the sport do now to deal with a sizeable squeeze on its finances?
If racecourse and sponsors’ vanity could be put to one side, certain bonus prizes or mega-prizes for handicaps would be better redirected towards racing’s lower ranks, where the pain is going to be felt most.
All credit to the connections of Stradivarius if they pick up anther £1m bonus for winning four designated races. And well done to whoever picks up the winner’s purse for the £1m Ebor Handicap. Hundreds of others can just look on, trying to scrape a living.
And it would be good to stop topping up prize-money for Cheltenham Festival races by the odd £5k or £10k. It may only be a top-up to Cheltenham, but it’s very nearly an entire race meeting’s prize money elsewhere.
And there’s going to have to be some serious consideration given to the amount of racing taking place. It’s nearly unsustainable now, but the drop in revenue means that some unkind cuts are going to have to be made.
The model racecard
These scribblings recently extolled the merits of the humble racecard as a way of promoting the sport, using them not just for runners and riders, but adding the type of content used by football and rugby clubs.
Coming pretty close in meeting this objective were the racecards produced by York for their Dante meeting.
Over the three days, they each contained 100 pages, not just of the necessities such as the runners, form and selections, plus information about the racecourse facilities, but a whole host of other useful information.
The guide to having a bet covered all the options and the main bets available.
Every race was preceded by a page of trends, past performances and stats, with extended information for the feature races.
There was an article on Dante and a fact-file on the meeting’s main contest, a feature on John Gosden, a racing lexicon, puzzle pages, index of jockeys and trainer and the best guide I’ve seen of facilities for disabled racegoers.
And there was much more besides.
York deserve credit for their racecard and others would do well to use it for their big raceday programmes.
Press camping out at Chester
Members of HM racing press were a bit disgruntled to hear from Chester’s clerk of the course that they were to be housed in a marquee for 2019 fixtures. Already smarting from Goodwood’s decision to move them to a windowless office above the toilets, one hopes that the heavy rain at the Roodee didn’t get into their laptops.
Elsewhere in the racing media, the estimable Racing Post features editor Katherine Fidler is departing the paper to broaden her horizones in sports journalism. The Post is now looking for a Premium Editor to oversee compelling, agenda-setting and high quality journalism.
And Keith Melrose has taken over from Paul Kealey as the Post’s betting editor. On his appointment, the training selections from Lambourn, the North and Newmarket disappeared, albeit that the North and Newmarket (pointlessly renamed On the Gallops) still have a daily nap.
Stand and deliver
A recent winner in William Hills cartoon racing was a horse called Nevison’s Leap. Needless to say we checked out the name with Racing TV’s Dave Nevison, and it turns out he was a highwayman ancestor of the channel’s pundit.
He was one of the country’s most notorious gentlemen of the road, earning the nicknme of Swift Nick from King Charles II after a 200 mile dash from Kent to York to establish an alibi for a robbery he’d earlier committed in the garden of England.
His route to York took him via Chelmsford, Huntingdon, and Cambridge, so association with nearby racecourses was beginning to be forged through Nevison ancestry.
The ‘Leap’ name comes from a time when he jumped over a tall hedge to make another exit from his persuers.
He was eventually caught, grassed-up his associates, escaped the death sentence as a result but also escaped his captors, was re-caught and hung in 1684.