Racing industry leaders have reached a temporary agreement to unlock all available levy funds until the end of March – allowing the maintenance of prize money at 2018 levels.
The move comes after trainer Ralph Beckett issued a call to arms to his fellow colleagues to boycott meetings at Arena Racing Company tracks for three days next week.
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, the unlocking of levy funds will enable prize money to be maintained at 2018 levels at least for the next month.
In that time, more meetings to try to agree future policy will take place between the British Horseracing Authority, the Racecourse Association, the National Trainers Federation, racecourses and the Horsemen’s Group.
At a meeting on Wednesday evening it was agreed that “unilateral action” was not in the best interests of the sport and that stakeholders would work together to come up with the best possible solution.
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.”
Prize money will return to 2018 levels from March 6, with the temporary agreement in place until March 31.
Trainers had previously been told it was “time to stand up” as plans for a second boycott at ARC courses appeared to be gathering support.
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.
It was reported on Thursday that plans for further protest were in place, with trainers being urged by colleagues to act en masse by making no entries next week for two meetings at Lingfield and one each at Fontwell, Southwell and Newcastle.
The entry deadline for the first two of those fixtures is at midday on Thursday – and in advance of that, it was confirmed at least one major partnership of owners would be part of the proposed boycott.
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.”
In Twitter responses over the reasons for boycotting fixtures or otherwise, Williams added: “We are acting in the interest of our owners – no one is putting pressure on anybody to act against an owners’ wishes.
“It’s the racecourses, bookmakers and BHA (British Horseracing Authority) that want to race every 10 minutes, all hours of the day, not the horsemen. We think we deserve a fair return in PM (prize money) for services.
“They can’t have it both ways – if three small meetings like this cost 300k in levy alone there should be enough for 10k per race, problem solved!”
An ARC spokesman said: “It’s important that all the owners and trainers out there know there is £4.5 million waiting to be allocated to Class 4, 5 and 6 Flat and 3, 4 and 5 jump races at Arc tracks.
“A coordinated boycott of races or fixtures does damage far beyond the racecourse, and will only serve to punish a large number of owners, trainers, jockeys and racing staff along with bookmakers, customers, sponsors, punters and broadcasters.
“Five fixtures lost to boycotts could unnecessarily see a loss to the industry of circa £300,000 in levy income alone. Racecourses require flexibility to invest in their race programme as appropriate, and the talks that are ongoing with horsemen, racecourses and BHA will allow that, hence our desire that agreement is reached without delay.”
The Racehorse Owners Association is pleased a interim resolution has been found as talks continue.
Chief executive Charlie Liverton said: “The ROA are delighted that, following constructive discussions with the RCA and their members, and the BHA, a position has been reached which sees the Appearance Money Scheme, so valued by horsemen, continued for a further month whilst discussions are on-going.
“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.”