The row over prize money at Arena Racing Company (ARC) tracks has intensified in recent days with a certain degree of infighting within the horse racing ranks now rearing its ugly head.
Following the government’s decision to limit stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT’s) to £2 from £100, racing has been preparing for a shortfall in bookmaker’s revenue after several firms threatened shop closures and job losses because of the decision.
While other racecourse owners have waited to see what the true outcome will be, ARC took an immediate decision to decrease their contribution to prize money by £3million and this has led to vastly reduced fields at its courses, particularly Lingfield, as trainers look to boycott their tracks while the row goes on.
While various groups continue talks to come to some sort of solution to the crisis, trainers have been accused of bullying their colleagues into not running horses at Lingfield and some have taken to social media to tell fellow professionals to “hang their heads in shame” for declaring runners at this Wednesday’s meeting at the Surrey track.
One jockey to have felt the full force of the vitriol this week is Danny Brock who is one of just five pilots set to take rides at the meeting, though one feels for him as he has explained that he is in a no-win situation.
Having taken calls from trainers attempting to coax him into not riding on the card boycotted by them, he has mounts in all six races including for long-time supporter John Jenkins as well as other trainers to have been good to him in the past, namely Sheena West and Lee Carter.
Brock feels that he would be upsetting people either way having been booked for most of these rides for some time. If he rides, which he does, then those attempting to force ARC into action by boycotting events may not use him in the future but if he had cancelled his intended rides at the track for current and previous allies then he risks their ire too.
With not all parties willing to go along with what look like increasingly aggressive tactics, some messages from a trainers-only WhatsApp group were leaked this week in which an unnamed handler declared that he would not use certain jockeys anymore, “not even on Bank Holidays.” A much more balanced reply to that message came however; “This is sounding like coercion. Careful please.”
Trainer Paul George was apparently taken out of the WhatsApp group by its admin for not agreeing with what was being discussed, making it clear that free speech within the training community is being tolerated at the moment about as much as ARC’s prize money offer.
While Lingfield’s flat fixtures at first were the main target of boycotts it seems things have extended somewhat. Only 27 runners have been declared overnight for Fontwell’s jump meeting on Wednesday with one of the races having only two runners.
Another 20 only have been declared for Southwell’s meeting on Thursday, again with a two-runner race set to take place, and it remains to be seen what fallout will come of all this given that at Fontwell top riders James Bowen, Gavin Sheehan and Nico de Boinville have all taken up engagements.
While the issue of poor prize money must of course be addressed, the feeling also is that racing’s in-fighting must end right now. This week has seen Richard Fahey attempt to belittle a racing journalist via Twitter (without properly reading his piece it seems) and trainers putting serious pressure on colleagues to boycott.
The real losers, as always, are the punters and those who have no public voice in the sport. Racing needs races, those races must have runners and those runners must have riders. The impact will be on jockey’s valets, racecourse caterers, bettors and many more people besides who won’t get a say in what is decided by trainers and racecourse administrators in the weeks and months to come.