Mark Johnston, a leading horse trainer, has blasted the Arena Racing Company’s (Arc) contribution to the prize-money as the racing group prepares to offset the government cuts to FOBT stakes.
Arc announced in December 2018 that it “simply cannot continue” to maintain its current contributions to the prize-money fund, and would be issuing a reduction to its contribution by £3m.
The row over prize-money contributions erupted after the racecourse group announced it would be slashing the prize-money for the novice races due to take place at Lingfield’s Winter Derby meeting on Saturday. The races were previously worth £5,800 in 2018, but this year, the races are now worth £4500.
Following this decision, trainers staged a mass protest, failing to declare any runners for the five furlong novice stakes from an entry of nine. Only Greybychoice, trained by Nick Littmoden was the only horse declared from the 18 entries for the mile novice stakes.
Johnston, who took the decision to not declare Al Daayen and Copper Rose in the mile race, told The Racing Post: “I had two horses in the race and sent one to Chelmsford and the other has been entered at Southwell where the prize-money was £8,000 rather than £4,500.
“The prize-money is quite ridiculous and the whole situation of Arc cutting prize-money in anticipation of a potential cut in the number of betting shops and funding due to the FOBT reduction, which is hypothetical at the moment, is out of order.
“The race values vary from 46-60 handicaps to maidens and better class races across the courses, but we always note the prize-money when making entries.”
The cuts to prize-money contributions will ultimately have a knock-on effect for bookmakers, as the levy will take a considerable hit.
Following the protest, trainers such as Johnston have praised the prize-money contributions of other race-tracks such as the Betfred-owned Chelmsford track. The trainer added: “The prize-money at Chelmsford is absolutely fantastic. I’ve been going there since its rebirth, and it might be a long way away, but we simply have to go as the prize-money is wonderful.
“It’s always been the case that we go to the tracks that offer the best prize-money.”
If Arc continue to make cuts to the prize-money, trainers and bookmakers will most likely resort to visiting racecourses that are not under Arc’s control. Following the dispute, Arc issued a statement: “We have been open about the fact that unlike 2018, we are no longer in a position to further invest to unlock levy funding for grassroots racing.
“The Racecourse Association has made a proposal that will allow Arc, and all other racecourses, to continue to access the levy funds assigned to support prize-money in this important area of the race programme. This amounts to £4.5 million across our group.
“It is disappointing that this situation has occurred in the middle of these constructive talks between horsemen, BHA and racecourses but we very much hope that they can progress and that this funding situation can be sorted as soon as possible.”
Discussions are still ongoing between the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), the National Trainers Federation, the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) and Racecourse Association to find a solution to the prize-money situation.
A BHA statement read: “The sport’s tripartite member bodies are currently engaged in constructive discussions regarding how the sport’s current funding issues can be managed in a manner that has the least possible impact on prize money.
“A proposal from the racecourse association is currently being considered and we are working with the Horsemen’s Group members and the RCA to put in place an approach that delivers the best outcome for the sport.”