Four races at Lingfield on Wednesday have been reopened due to insufficient numbers as a temporary agreement on the issue of prize-money at Arena Racing Company-owned tracks appears to have fallen short in the eyes of trainers.
Classic-winning handler Ralph Beckett called on trainers to boycott meetings at ARC tracks for three days next week in protest at cuts in prize-money.
Beckett reportedly suggested action be taken against Fontwell’s jumps card and the Lingfield fixture on the level on Wednesday – mand while entries for the National Hunt racing have stood up well, four Flat contests have not fared as well.
Those races have been reopened until Friday, leading to fears that an interim deal to release extra funding from the Levy Board and ensure values are maintained at 2018 levels has not been sufficient to avoid a boycott.
An ARC statement said on Thursday said: “At a British Horesracing Authority Board meeting last night, ARC chief executive Martin Cruddace and Ann Duffield (representing the National Trainers Federation) agreed that ARC would fully unlock all relevant races for a period of one month while all parties continue to work towards a resolution of this issue.
“In a deal brokered by BHA, it was made clear that ARC would adjust its future race programme to fund this period of unlocking, which represents circa £235,000. This will unlock circa £364,000 in Levy funding, which has been budgeted to support these races.
“To be clear, ARC’s position remains that we are anxious that the £4.5 million for these races is allocated as soon as possible and that agreement is reached.
“ARC understands that BHA will produce communications to notify horsemen of appropriate race values over this period.”
Trainers and owners have been protesting at the recent cuts to prize money at ARC tracks as the operator prepares for an expected shortfall in the levy because of betting shop closures following the Government’s decision to lower the maximum FOBT stake from £100 to £2.
With media rights income expected to shrink as a result of fewer shops, more consultation is planned between the BHA, the Racecourse Association, the NTF, racecourses and the Horsemen’s Group to try to find a solution to the funding issue.
Those parties agreed “unilateral action” was not in the best interests of the sport at a meeting on Wednesday evening.
BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “I’m pleased at the commitment from all to work together on this, which has to be in the long-term interests of the sport.
“We know there are difficult times ahead, and a common approach is the best way to respond. I believe we can achieve that over the next four weeks if we can maintain the spirit of the agreement we’re announcing today.”
The Racehorse Owners Association chief executive Charlie Liverton believes a measured response to the issue is now required.
He said: “British racing needs a vibrant racecourse community. Through the tripartite system, stakeholders need further time to consider the impact that the government’s decision on FOBT machines will have on the media rights income the industry receives.”
Prize money will return to 2018 levels from March 6, with the temporary agreement in place until March 31.
The stand-off had already resulted last weekend in one walkover and one race with no entries at all on Lingfield’s high-profile Winter Derby card.
Trainers had previously been told it was “time to stand up”.
In addition to action at Fontwell and Lingfield, it was suggested trainers could also target meetings next week at Southwell and Newcastle.
A tweet on Thursday morning from Highflyer Bloodstock spelled that out on behalf of renowned jumps owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
It read: “Owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede have asked me to make sure their trainers do not enter for these proposed ARC meetings next week – they are in full support of the boycott over what is clearly a premature reduction of prize money.”
The issue has caused much debate on social media – and Newmarket trainer Stuart Williams was one who made his feelings clear on Twitter.
He wrote: “We cannot as an industry put up with the scandalous returns to owners from the ARC courses.
“It is time to stand up and say this is not a fair return for them or trainers and staff that work so hard to put the show on the road – if they don’t fund them better, maybe they should lose them.”