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Action Replay: Horse Voices

All is not well in the Sport of Kings. The owners and trainers want more money for 2011–12 from the bookmakers, via the levy or tax on their profits, but the bookies are unwilling to pay up. Consequently the government will have to make a decision, in the person of Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.

Of course there is a lot more to this than just a squabble about how much is paid over. Attendance at race meetings is more or less holding up, but otherwise racing is feeling the force of the recession. Trainers are going out of business regularly, and one prediction is that barely a quarter of the 85 who currently train at Newmarket will survive. The owners are in most cases wealthy individuals who see racing as a hobby that can sometimes make money but is mainly indulged in for fun. This hasn’t stopped them threatening to strike in order to get their way in this squabble, though. 

Then there are the bookies, who maintain that horse racing is becoming less and less important as a source of income for them, with it now contributing less than one quarter of the money they get from punters. Moreover, racing paraphernalia take up a lot of space in betting shops, and TV coverage has increased in price. But in particular it’s on-line betting that has caused the problems. If people can bet on roulette, bingo and football over the Internet (including while a football match is being played), there is less left over for the gee-gees. The traditional bookmakers have in some cases moved their operations offshore to avoid paying the levy.

One bookie said, in a nice phrase, that the top owners and trainers, were ‘shooting themselves in both fetlocks’. But really it’s a typical row between groups of rich individuals that will see many workers in the racing industry suffer as the powers-that-be argue among themselves and the whole industry struggles to cope with economic and technological changes.

PB