Who’s going to spend racing’s £40m?
Mike Deasy on the conundrum of who spends racing’s £40m government aid package
The devil will be in the detail on where racing’s £40m loan from the government will be heading. Early indications are that the racecourses will be on the receiving end, which makes a lot of sense.
Deciding on competing recipients, whilst knowing that the money needs to be spent for the good of racing as a whole, is a bunfight best avoided.
And it’s good to see Ascot welcoming the aid package but Nick Smith (pictured), Ascot’s director of racing, is not the first to wonder which racecourses might take advantage of the financial support.
BHA chief executive, Nick Rush, is hoping that as much of the £40m as possible is taken up. But why wouldn’t it be?
There are going to be racecourse finance directors who might baulk at taking on a loan, even if the interest rates are low and the time required to pay it back is generous.
As it’s a “winter package”, some Flat courses might hold back to see if spectator numbers can increase before they get underway again, hoping their reserves can see them through.
There are also the two major racecourse groups – Arena Racing with shareholders, and the implications of a quoted business getting a government handout, and the Jockey Club which is obliged to channel its profits back into the sport and is therefore less problematic in this respect. It is probably also better placed than most for working off a debt.
If the money is not fully utilised it throws into question the merit of the aid package in the first place. And owners would expect to see prize-money heading back towards normal levels and would be a tad miffed if that wasn’t the case.
What is not in doubt is that the BHA has demonstrated its ability to liaise with the government in getting the second largest share of the £300m available to sports organisations. They deserve everyone’s acknowledgment and support for their achievement.
One-horse race for writing award
Voting closed on Sunday for the Racehorse Writers and Photographers Association 2020 Awards and however that goes the Racing Post is certain to win Writer of the Year Category as all four of the nominees, David Carr, John Harding, David Jennings and Peter Thomas, are Post journalists.
There’s a chance that The Guardian could win the Reporter of The Year with Chris Cook, but he’s up against three men from the Post – Bill Barber, Lewis Porteous and Lee Mottershead. It helps, of course, that there are greater opportunities for Post writers to fill column inches and therein lies the problem.
Elsewhere, racing coverage can be hit and miss and, with some titles, it’s all miss. The Coral sponsored racing coverage in the freebie Metro has disappeared, and the Evening Standard, which back in the days of yore published a racing edition, now only shows a flicker of interest for Cheltenham, the Derby and Royal Ascot.
Nevertheless, Betfair Exchange saw the merit of paying for a four-page racing section last week echoing the paid-for Saturday previews which the Jockey Club used to fund for the Standard.
The Guardian still leads the way in the national press for its reporting, with Chris Cook joined by Greg Wood and racing editor Toney Paley. They have a reputation for tackling stories that don’t get touched elsewhere, including a report last week that, according to Horserace Bettors Forum research, SPs generated off-course for well-backed horses offer poorer value than those returned from on-course betting.
But the Guardian, whose racing coverage has been under threat from financial cutbacks, has long since dropped racecards.
Racecards still appear in the tabloids as well as The Times and Daily Telegraph. Anything more than racecards and tips in The Times is patchy, with a preview from racing editor Rob Wright of Saturday’s big races and an occasional round-up of the weekend action.
Marcus Armitage in the Telegraph fares better and still gets to write lengthier feature pieces. It’s a similar story for Marcus Townend at the Daily Mail.
Elsewhere, the emphasis in on tipping pieces although, with the merging of sports desks at the Mirror and Express, the titles have pooled contributions from Chris Goulding (the Scout on the Express), Melissa Jones and David Yates (the Mirror’s Newsboy), the papers from the left and right have an impressive line-up.
One thing which hasn’t changed is the Morning Star’s tipster Farringdon regularly finding a long-odds winner, rocketing him to the top of the Racing Post naps table which he currently leads with a profit of £47.75 from just five winners – up the workers!
It helps that ITV Racing is bringing in the numbers – viewing figures for the past two Saturdays have peaked at over 1m – so the argument can be made that racing is a popular sport and worthy of its inclusion on the sports pages.
The ITV viewing figures were reported by Marcus Armitage in the Telegraph, no doubt hoping his sports editor would take note. But there are sports editors who are not entirely enamoured with so much space devoted to racecards, especially when many of the contests are “minor league” affairs.
The ITV coverage also means Matt Chapman is a high-profile writer for The Sun. One last word on the awards. Shining bright in newspaper coverage is Brough Scott, sending despatches from Saturday’s major meetings for The Sunday Times in a way the paper has not seen since the halcyon days of Roger Mortimer.
The evergreen Scott is someone who could and should wrest an award from the clutches of the Racing Post.
Closing the books
The Racing Post has shut it’s in-house book publishing operation. It never was the most profitable part of the business and its closure doesn’t come as a complete surprise.
However, it’s not the end of their book portfolio as the Post has entered into an agreement for Pitch Publishing, which was founded in 2002, to produce their catalogue of titles.
This year’s guide to the new jumps season and the Racing Post Annual 2021 are the first titles to come from the Pitch stable, and both the popular annuals and one-off books will continue to appear.
♦ Your guide to racing books for Christmas http://wp.me/s8e3Dl-20863