Tracks commit record amounts to boost prize-money
Britain's racecourses could not have done more to reward horsemen, it has been claimed, as the Racecourse Association revealed that tracks for the first time contributed half of a record level of prize-money in 2016.
Racecourses committed a total of £68.5 million to prize-money last year, which helped the overall figure rise to £137.6m. The proportion the courses contributed increased from 47 per cent in 2015.
In 2009 that proportion was just 25 per cent, with the Levy Board supplying 59 per cent of prize-money and 16 per cent coming from owners.
However, levy yields have subsequently fallen – the Levy Board contributed 34 per cent of prize-money in 2016 – with racecourses stepping into the breach.
Racecourse Association chief executive Stephen Atkin acknowledged the boom in media rights income had helped fuel that spending.
However, he added: "What it does show is that racecourses commit a very large part of increases in income to prize-money, whereas in an overtly commercial business you pay dividends and things like that.
"It does show the importance racecourses put on improving returns to owners and, indeed, increasingly on improving the owners' experience.
"You'd be hard pressed to find many racecourses that make very substantial profits. They are doing the right thing."
Total prize-money in Britain has increased by 47 per cent over the past five years but courses have been criticised by owners and trainers for the low level of purses at the middle and bottom tiers of the sport.
Atkin said courses could not not have put in much more than they had done, but that the way prize-money has been allocated is being adjusted, with the grassroots of racing set to benefit thanks to the extra income due to be received from the reform to the levy system.
He said: "I'd certainly say of their increases in income racecourses have devoted a very high proportion to prize-money, and I'd say it would be unreasonable to expect them to have done any more than they have done.
"As to the question of where it is allocated, the industry has encouraged them to put it in at the top end in the last few years, and racecourses have been rewarded for doing that.
"It is now intended that an increase in prize-money be directed at that bottom end, which will also encourage racecourses to respond and direct some of their money there."
The vast majority of courses have prize-money agreements in place with the Horsemen's Group which are due to be renegotiated this year.
Horsemen have said they want minimum values raised and they are also unhappy about entire meetings comprised of races run at those basement totals.
However, the ongoing commercial impasse between Betfred and Ladbrokes Coral on one side and new betting shop channel The Racing Partnership on the other could be a hindrance.
Atkin said: "We're now gearing up to negotiating with the horsemen in the second half of this year.
"There are still some important things outstanding, not least some media rights deals to be concluded which will impact on courses' ability to contract on prize-money."