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Chelmsford calls for more support from horsemen following prize-money cuts

Racing at Chelmsford under lights tonight
Chelmsford: 59 meetings are due to take place at the track next yearCredit: Edward Whitaker

Chelmsford has made an impassioned plea for more support from horsemen in light of cuts to its contribution to prize-money – caused by a drop in revenue from media rights following betting shop closures.

The Essex venue's prize-money has been widely hailed within the sport as being up with the best, but the track's chief operating officer Phil Siers on Monday warned the outlook is not bright due to picture payments dropping as the result of an estimated 1,100 betting shops shutting since the government's FOBT crackdown in April.

The effect of that change has been estimated at £40-£60 million a year for the industry.

Siers is calling on owners and trainers to make more of an effort to send horses to Chelmsford, with bigger field sizes unlocking bigger payments to the course which, in turn, filter down to prize-money offered.

"Media rights, which allow us to put on big prize-money, have dropped because of the loss of betting shops in the last 12 months and accelerated since April, so our prize-money has dropped, but not as much as it could have," he said.

Chelmsford: stages evening meeting on Monday
Chelmsford: intends to install a turf track by 2021Credit: Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)

"If we were doing a comparative pro rata it might be £5,000-£6,000 per meeting, but if you look at other tracks' executive contributions you'll see prize-money is gradually falling and people in racing have to expect prize-money is going to fall.

"One of the criteria for courses to get fixtures from the BHA is executive contribution and the other is runners per race, so I'm saying, 'Guys, help us to keep the prize-money up by sending us the runners and we'll do our bit with the prize-money'.

"These aren't factual numbers, but if we were 10.5 runners a race instead of 9.5 that would help with additional fixtures."

Trainers boycotted several races at Arena Racing Company tracks in February over the racecourse group's decision to cut nearly £3 million from its 2019 prize-money contribution, money which in turn would have unlocked £4.5m in levy funding for lower-grade racing.

A compromise was found thanks to an injection of cash from the Levy Board, however that also proved short-lived due to an unexpected crash in levy income.

Newmarket trainer Stuart Williams, who is enjoying his best-ever campaign, has had more winners at Chelmsford in the last five years than any other course and expressed sympathy for the track’s dip in purses, particularly in light of the £17m levy funding shortfall revealed in May.

"They do their best to put on the best prize-money for each level of race and it puts some of the bigger courses to shame," Williams said. "I think this is a worry for everyone. The shortfall in the levy was unexpected and everyone is bracing themselves for the reduction in betting shops this year.

"I don't think it's going to be quite as bad as some predicted, but the closures are going to affect Chelmsford's ability to put money in, given the way we fund our racing through media rights."

The all-weather circuit, which intends to install a turf track by 2021, now contributes £48,300 to prize-money per meeting, from around £54,000 last year, and offered just short of £5m in total purses in the last year.

Siers added that the best way to keep prize-money up was by the industry continuing to support the course, and added: "Generally speaking we're delighted with the support we get from owners and trainers.

"The owners want to race for more prize-money and we want to give it to them, but we just need everyone, as they are doing, to continue to support us and we'll try to keep our prize-money as high as possible."

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James BurnLambourn correspondent

Published on 7 October 2019inNews

Last updated 19:44, 7 October 2019