THE quality of British racing remains “second to none” – but “derisory” prize money levels remain a persistent threat to its future, guests at a prestigious York Racecourse dinner were told last night.

Addressing the 242nd Gimcrack Dinner, Rachel Hood, president of the Racehorse Owners Association, said that nobody connected with the sport should “ever forget that owners are the single biggest providers to the funding of British racing”.

She revealed figures from a survey of owners’ expenditure which said the cost of keeping a single Flat horse in training is nearly £19,000 a year and that, as prize money had fallen, so had the number of owners – by about 14 per cent since 2008.

Hood maintained that the level of contribution of racecourses to prize money was an issue that required “immediate attention”.

While acknowledging the contribution from tracks and sponsors to prize money had increased by £15 million in 2011, with a small increase likely this year, Hood said: “The fact that a racecourse’s allocation to prize money remains totally discretionary is, quite simply, wrong.”

“Our host this evening is just one example of a racecourse that is committed to providing prize money at a level that will continue to attract the very best horses in what is now an extremely competitive international market,” Hood told the invited audience.

But she added: “The RCA has recently confirmed that by 2013 racecourses will be receiving media rights of at least £84 million, nearly £30 million more than in 2010. Based on around 1,450 fixtures... this means that racecourses will receive something close to £60,000 per fixture.

“The fact that there are still a number of courses out there that don’t even contribute £10,000 to prize money at their fixtures illustrates why many owners are disillusioned. Other owners, myself included, are pretty cross.”

This year’s Gimcrack, staged at the Ebor Festival in August, was won by Blaine, owned by Lauren Morgan and trained by Hambleton’s Kevin Ryan.

She understood it was 40 years since a female speaker last addressed the gathering and added her experiences of racing had been “nothing but positive”.

“At a time when many would wish to address what is wrong within racing I feel it is important to highlight what is right in the sport,” she said. “The hard work that many are putting in to change the face of racing, and to make it appealing to all, is definitely working.”

Gimcrack, born in 1760, recorded 27 wins from 30 races during an 11-year career. Despite never winning at York, his performances led to Lord Rockingham, twice Prime Minister and a leading figure on Knavesmire, forming a dining club in his honour in 1767.