Arena Racing Company’s chief executive Martin Cruddace hopes discussions next week will go some way to resolving the ongoing dispute over prize-money levels.
ARC announced in December it was cutting back on its prize-money contributions 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.
This decision has been met with dismay by many trainers, owners and jockeys and the situation came to a head last weekend after two races at Lingfield were boycotted – with no runners declared in one and Nick Littmoden’s Greybychoice enjoying a walkover in another.
In a temporary move, ARC announced on Thursday it was reallocating prize-money to increase funds in the lower-grade races, but that move has not appeased everyone – with another race at Sedgefield on Sunday boycotted to result in a walkover and Classic-winning trainer Ralph Beckett calling on his fellow trainers to boycott further meetings at ARC tracks for three days next week.
Speaking on ITV Racing’s Opening Show on Saturday morning, Cruddace said: “What we’re desperate to do is work with the industry.
“I think we all need to wake up a little. William Hill put their stock exchange announcements out on Thursday and they announced 900 shop closures over the next two years. They are 26 per cent of the market – that’s 3,600 shops if that follows through on a pro rata basis.
“That means we have a far greater problem than what we’re going through right now and we need to address that and address it urgently.
“We’re only going to address it if we work together. A boycott only affects punters, our betting stakeholders and the Levy.”
He added: “I’m desperate that we resolve this. Not just for us (ARC) – we’re going to be fine – I’m desperate to resolve it for an industry I actually care a lot about.
“There are discussions going to go ahead next week with senior leaders of racing – horsemen, owners and racecourses.
“And I do believe – with sensible heads – that we can find a way through this. Because we have to.”
Some reports have suggested ARC could even take legal action.
Asked if he could rule that out, Cruddace said: “As a chief executive of a company there’s no way I’m going to do that.
“But I am a litigator, in my past, and I’m the most reluctant litigator in the world.
“I hope we don’t get to that point.”
Speaking at Doncaster on Saturday afternoon, leading trainer Oliver Sherwood said he hopes a resolution can be found soon.
Sherwood said: “I’m not a politics man, but I know where the trainers and jockeys are coming from.
“I hope it’s resolved amicably. I hope everyone can get round a table and sort it out.
“It’s not good for racing to get this publicity into the daily press. We want to encourage people to come racing. It’s very expensive to keep horses in training, it’s a hobby for some wealthy people but we want to encourage people to come into racing.
“The money at the top end is A1, it’s the bottom end (that is the problem). And there are more average horses than good horses.”
On Friday, jockey Stevie Donohoe entered the debate and said he would be supporting action – urging his weighing-room colleagues to follow suit.
He wrote on Twitter: “Fully support the trainers and owners this coming week, I will not be taking any rides at the selected meetings and urge my colleagues to follow suit #seethebigpicture.”