‘Faultlines’ at core of barrier to racing health

York Press: Caspar Netscher, winner of this year’s Gimcrack Stakes at York Caspar Netscher, winner of this year’s Gimcrack Stakes at York

RACING’S funding system has become “discredited” and “unfit for purpose”, guests at a prestigious York Racecourse dinner were told last night.

Addressing the 241st Gimcrack Dinner, Alan Lee, veteran racing editor at The Times, said there were “fundamental faultlines” that obstructed the progress of British racing and stopped the sport being viewed with the admiration it deserved.

Arguing that racing was “suffering”, Lee said of the system, and the Levy, which is the amount collected from bookmakers and distributed back into the sport: “It is little wonder we hear of trainers going out of business and owners taking their horses to race for the better prize money in France.

“Whatever the tinkerings of recent years, the Levy system still, to my eyes, heavily favours the betting industry over racing.

“I don’t blame the bookmakers for trying to pay as little as they can get away with. That’s business.

“But racing is suffering, not just through the simple fact of too little money but also because the fixture list is being dictated by the interests of bookmakers, who justify their demands for ever more meetings – including many that nobody wants to watch – on the criteria of what they call ‘Levy-positive meetings’.

“In other words, pandering to a system that almost everyone considers long past its sell-by date.

“It saddens me that the governing body of British racing is powerless to impose its wishes on something as fundamental as the fixture list.

“This, however, is symptomatic of the general malaise of an industry in which there is no clear line of authority.”

According to tradition, the event is addressed by the owner of the horse that wins the Gimcrack Stakes, a Group 2 contest for two-year-olds which forms part of the Ebor Festival in August.

This year’s Gimcrack was won by Caspar Netscher, owned by Charles Wentworth.

While praising the contribution to prize money made by York, Wentworth also went on the offensive on the issue – saying commitment to investment should be rewarded.

“In what I know are challenging times, it was fantastic to see such a significant prize fund (for the Gimcrack) retained at £140,000 – and York and its supporters should be credited for maintaining or, indeed, increasing the value of all the Group 1 and 2 contests here on Knavesmire last year,” he said.

“In terms of the future funding for our sport, I am disappointed that the next Levy fell at the lower range of expectations but heartened that is an increase on this year’s return.

“My message to those allocating the funds would be to recognise those who have consistently backed the sport – putting any new funds towards those who have kept investing in difficult times.

“This can be a relative sum, and although it is wonderful that our hosts tonight have offered £5 million in prize money, we all understand that not everyone can find such absolute figures.

“It is the commitment to invest that should be rewarded.”

Gimcrack, born in 1760, recorded 27 wins from 36 races.

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.

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