Johnston laments 'ridiculous' prize-money as protests hit Lingfield card
Leading trainer Mark Johnston has labelled the prize-money for the novice races on Winter Derby day at Lingfield on Saturday as "ridiculous" after trainers forced one contest to be scrapped and another to be a walkover at the Arena Racing Company-owned track.
The prize-money row in British racing exploded on Thursday morning when trainers protested en masse with no runners declared for the five furlong novice stakes from an entry of nine, while only the Nick Littmoden-trained Greybychoice was declared from the 18 entries for the mile novice stakes.
The two races are each worth £4,500, compared to £5,800 last year.
The protest comes as a reaction to Arc's decision to cut prize-money by £3 million in response to the government's crackdown on FOBT stakes.
Johnston, who chose not to declare Al Daayen and Copper Rose in the mile race, said: “I had two horses in the race and sent one to Chelmsford and the other has been entered at Southwell where the prize-money was £8,000 rather than £4,500.
“It gets to a point where it’s just not viable to take a horse all the way to Lingfield for that sort of money. We’ve done it in the past, but we’re not going back to the bad old days.
“The prize-money is quite ridiculous and the whole situation of Arc cutting prize-money in anticipation of a potential cut in the number of betting shops and funding due to the FOBT reduction, which is hypothetical at the moment, is out of order.
“The race values vary from 46-60 handicaps to maidens and better class races across the courses, but we always note the prize-money when making entries."
Johnston is the leading trainer at Chelmsford since its reopening in 2015 and praised the prize-money levels at the Essex track owned by Betfred founder Fred Done.
He said: “The prize-money at Chelmsford is absolutely fantastic. I’ve been going there since its rebirth, and it might be a long way away, but we simply have to go as the prize-money is wonderful.
“It’s always been the case that we go to the tracks that offer the best prize-money."
Ralph Beckett, trainer of Lope Scholar, who was entered to run in the mile event, said: "Trainers have acted as individuals and have simply voted with their feet in regards to those two races on Saturday. The fact there were 18 entries in the mile novice might indicate to Arc that this may not be the last time [racing has low fields]."
William Knight, who withdrew Power Of You, added: "I just felt that the prize-money on offer was just not good enough so I decided not to declare. We need to make a point so will have a look at a race at Kempton or Chelmsford where the prize-money is better."
A statement from Arc said: "We have been open about the fact that unlike 2018, we are no longer in a position to further invest to unlock levy funding for grassroots racing.
"The Racecourse Association has made a proposal that will allow Arc, and all other racecourses, to continue to access the levy funds assigned to support prize-money in this important area of the race programme. This amounts to £4.5 million across our group.
"It is disappointing that this situation has occurred in the middle of these constructive talks between horsemen, BHA and racecourses but we very much hope that they can progress and that this funding situation can be sorted as soon as possible."
Nick Littmoden, the sole trainer to enter a horse in the two races, said he will donate his winning trainer's prize-money to the Injured Jockeys Fund.
The trainer of Greybychoice said: "The prize-money is appalling. The money with Arc is shocking but some of the Jockey Club racecourses is not good enough either – as a standard it is poor.
"We are racing for nothing in some of the races at Newmarket, the home of Flat racing, on a Friday night. We have such competitive racing but very poor money. It is not good for the sport or the industry and I hope Arc do raise their prize-money levels or they will probably get more action.
"I had some phone calls from trainers but I think they know where I am coming from.
"In my first spell of training there was no-one more vociferous than me about minimum values. I didn't run them then and paid the fines.
"On the second occasion, a boycott had been organised and then some people took advantage of the situation and decided to run.
"Since I've resumed training I've been very much my own man and the most I knew about this was when I received a short text message yesterday which was not the best way of doing things but I've spoken to the person since and we intend to run the horse at Lingfield.
"I am not running my horse to pick up a cheap race, my percentage will be donated to the Injured Jockeys Fund."
Discussions are ongoing between the British Horseracing Authority, National Trainers Federation, Racehorse Owners Association and Racecourse Association to see if the prize-money situation can be resolved.
A BHA statement read: “The sport’s tripartite member bodies are currently engaged in constructive discussions regarding how the sport’s current funding issues can be managed in a manner that has the least possible impact on prize money.
“A proposal from the racecourse association is currently being considered and we are working with the Horsemen’s Group members and the RCA to put in place an approach that delivers the best outcome for the sport.”
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