Sheikh Mohammed warns British racecourses

On the evidence of his speech at the Gimcrack Dinner held at York, England on Tuesday evening Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum would be a philosophical ally of the stakeholder groups pursuing the rocky path of fundamental reform within
New Zealand racing.

The conflict between UK racecourses and the rest of the industry which Sheikh Mohammed highlighted has recently become evident in New Zealand where reports acknowledging the critical state of racing and recommending major industry change have so far found their strongest support among the associations representing owners, breeders and trainers.

The speech, delivered for Sheikh Mohammed by Michael Osborne, member of the Dubai World Cup committee, highlighted his concerns about poor returns to owners, the livelihoods of those who work in British racing and the "posturing" of some racecourses opposed to the interests of the rest of the industry. His point that
British racing is being subsidised by under-paid stable employees as much as by poorly rewarded - and increasingly disillusioned - owners will not be lost on many New Zealand industry stakeholders.

The following report of the speech comes from Racenews, acting for Godolphin:

Sheikh Mohammed pointed out that increased prize-money is the key for all those involved in racing and urged Britain's 59 racecourses to work with the rest of the industry for the betterment of the sport as a whole.

He said some progress had been made since he raised concerns about the level of funding five years ago but there was still much work to be done.

He warned racecourses that if a confrontational approach is taken or
reasonable prize money increases are not provided via the extra funding
received by the tracks, then the Maktoum family "stands willing to join
with other owners in taking action". But he hoped this would not be

Discussing the progress made in improving British racing's finances in the past year, Sheikh Mohammed said:
"A significant amount of that extra income is being paid direct to the racetracks. It is to be hoped that owners, and all of the other people who depend so heavily on prize-money, will quickly see a corresponding benefit.

"I say 'it is to be hoped' because at present it seems by no means certain
that all racecourses will pass on a fair share of the extra income to
owners, trainers, jockeys, stable staff, and the many others whose
jobs are linked to racing."

Sheikh Mohammed highlighted concerns that racecourses could act selfishly
and about their attitude to the sport's ruling body.

"Like many other people, I have been concerned to see the extent to which
racecourses appear to have found themselves at odds with the rest of the
British Horseracing Board - and therefore the rest of the industry - in
recent months."

He added: "The posturing of some racecourses leads me to think that they
feel they run the sport and can operate in isolation from owners and
others. Take it from me, that is not the case. It would be a mistake for
racecourses to attempt to put that to the test by going it alone. I
sincerely hope they don't end up finding this out the hard way,
having done untold damage to
themselves and to racing.

"I was dismayed to see the Racecourse Association make a complaint to the
Office of Fair Trading about the BHB's decision on minimum prize-money
levels. If this is the way racecourses are going to conduct their business
in future, then there truly is little hope for any of us.

"The sooner racecourses can work in harmony with the rest of the industry
the better. There needs to be goodwill by people of intelligence on all
sides. Past and present differences need to be put to one side, personality
clashes resolved and a concerted effort must be made to allow racing in
Britain to fulfil the ambitions that we all hold for it."

He explained the important role of prize-money in helping everybody
involved in British racing and said the returns for owners in Britain
continue to be "on the pathetic side of poor", with owners sustaining
losses of hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

"It saddens and frustrates me that when I make a statement on behalf of
owners it is presented in some quarters as being about wealthy owners
seeking to line their pockets. That is a total distortion of the truth. The
fact is that those who campaign for more prize-money are doing so for the
benefit of the people who are the backbone of the industry - they are the
people who matter.

"Let nobody doubt it: prize-money is the lifeblood of the industry. The
more prize-money increases, the better for everyone - not just the owner.
The livelihoods of tens of thousands of people depend on it.

"Owning racehorses is a huge financial commitment for most people. Like us,
they choose to put some money into their passion for racing. Yet every year
owners are being driven out of the sport because they just can't stop the
tide of racing's financial realities sweeping over them. And if owners
leave the sport in significant numbers, the jobs of countless people in the
industry are either lost or become less secure."

Sheikh Mohammed is particularly worried about the situation of stable staff
and called for an action plan to improve the pay and conditions.

"I have been hugely disappointed that hardly anyone, amidst the acres of
newsprint and airtime that have been devoted to discussions on racing's
finances in recent years, has sought to make stable staff a priority.

"Again and again, we hear from trainers that the biggest problem they face
is recruiting good staff. Why? Because they are often poorly paid, are
offered only a limited career path, and have pension arrangements that
might be said to belong to a bygone age.

"The historic underfunding of the sport is largely responsible for this
appalling situation. But it will shame everyone involved in British racing
if the current opportunity is not seized and significant steps are not
taken to put the situation right as quickly as possible.

"The truth is that underpaid stable staff are subsidising the sport in
exactly the same way as owners are. That is not just unacceptable, it is

The full text of Sheikh Mohammed's speech, and reactions to it, can be found at The Racing Post: www.racingpost.co.uk/horses
- under the heading "Gimcrack Speech".

- Courtesy of Racenews & Godolphin


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