Significant progress appears to have been made in the ongoing dispute over prize-money levels after Arena Racing Company committed to unlocking extra funds for all eligible races in March on Saturday evening.
ARC announced in December it was cutting back on its contributions as the operator prepares for an expected shortfall in the levy due to 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 decision did not appease everyone – with another race at Sedgefield on Sunday reduced to a walkover and Classic-winning trainer Ralph Beckett calling on his fellow trainers to take further action at meetings at ARC tracks for three days next week.
However, speaking on ITV Racing’s Opening Show on Saturday morning, ARC’s chief executive Martin Cruddace said he was “desperate” to resolve the issue, adding: “I do believe – with sensible heads – that we can find a way through this.”
And on Saturday evening it was confirmed in a joint statement that ARC had agreed with the National Trainers Federation to commit the necessary prize-money to unlock levy board funding, to “allow further constructive discussions between the two parties” to take place.
Crucially, ARC confirmed the funds will not be taken from elsewhere within the firm’s race programme – a shift from its stance earlier in the week – while the NTF said it was “content” that the sum to be reduced should reflect the estimated £55,000 impact of the unsupported races at Lingfield and Sedgefield.
Cruddace said in the statement: “We are pleased to continue constructive dialogue with the NTF. The racing industry has wider issues to address beyond this specific prize money debate, and we clearly have bridges to build.
“As such we are delighted that negotiations will begin on Tuesday. We are grateful to Nick Rust and his team at the British Horseracing Authority for assisting in brokering this moratorium, which will allow the time for these further talks to take place.”
NTF president Ann Duffield added: “We are pleased that we have been able to reach this position with ARC and have welcomed the spirit of the negotiations. We look forward to continuing further positive talks early next week.”
Speaking at Doncaster on Saturday afternoon, leading trainer Oliver Sherwood said he hoped a resolution could 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.”