Friday, 23 September 2016

The Final Act

All good things come to an end: Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt & Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie & Billy Bob Thornton - not to mention Jonny Lee Miller. And then of course there's the Horserace Betting Levy Board.
The Levy Board is the statutory body which oversees the collection of funds from the off-course betting industry and distributes it throughout the racing industry, predominately through contributions towards prize money. The Government announced, in March this year, that it planned to bring in a levy replacement system from the beginning of April 2017, designed to cope with the shifting sands of betting trends - specifically the drift of money from highstreet betting shops to digital platforms administered from offshore jurisdictions, where the levy doesn't currently apply.
Having lasted for more than five decades, the Levy Board has already demonstrated greater longevity than most celebrity marriages - despite similarly regular and premature reports of its demise. But, with further Government announcements expected within the next few weeks, it looks as though the final act of the levy drama may now be unfolding - and it's got racecourse executives sitting on the edge of their seats.
Perched behind their desks, this is the time of year that Clerks of the Course formulate their race programmes for next year, a key ingredient of which is the amount of prize money available for the connections of horses. It's an important process because when a horse like Spark Plug wins the Cambridgeshire (this week's selection) the money filters down to all layers of the sport - through owners to trainers, jockeys, breeders, stable staff and a cast of equine suppliers that would extend to horse dentists and physiotherapists (but not quite as far as Mr Pitt's stylist or Ms Jolie's assistant hair-dresser).
Despite the fact that all prize money passes through to the horsemen, the distribution of prize money grants is material to racecourses too - because it helps to determine the shape and quality of our race programmes. High prize money doesn't exactly guarantee box-office success but, like a low budget movie, it's more difficult to make an impact if the actors aren't being paid.
The average prize fund at Cartmel this year was our highest ever, at just over £7,500 per race. We'd love to pay our actors more, but Cartmel receives less levy funding than any other racecourse in Britain. More than 58% of our prize money comes from our own resources, the highest percentage contribution of any jumps racecourse in Britain and well above the national average of 46%.
The discrepancy centres around the fact that, despite their popularity, three of our race-days (one third of our fixture list) attract no levy support at all. That's why, in addition to a levy replacement system, we're looking for a change to the mechanism for distribution - one that recognises the aspirations of racecourses to progress and develop their businesses.
Racing has asked the Government to restore the funding pot to the level that it was before the offshore drift commenced: more than £100 million. The problem is, with barely six months to go until the scheduled closure of the Levy Board, we don't really know when we're going to see any action, or even if the Director is about to shout 'Cut!'.

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