Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Racing certs

Sir: Peter Oborne was right about one thing in his article, 'A racing uncertainty' (21 March) - Cheltenham was once again a marvellous advertisement for British racing. But as to everything else he was just about as wrong as it is possible to be.

To say that racing is in crisis is patently absurd, when more people are going racing than at any time since the 1960s and when prize money is at a record high. Sunday racing has attracted more and different people into racing, bringing families and children to the racecourses. Racing is a big, successful international industry employing, together with the betting industry, over 100,000 people, and it has the potential to be bigger and even more successful.

What is remarkable is that under the leadership of first the Jockey Club and now the British Horseracing Board (BHB), racing has been able to achieve all this success with one hand tied behind its back. There is a great imbalance, dating back to the 1960s, by which British racing receives a far smaller share of the betting turnover it helps to generate than any other major racing nation. It is in part to rectify this wrong that the BHB produced its Financial Plan.

Given the howlers he makes, I cannot believe that Mr Oborne has actually read it. Perhaps I could make one or two points just to set him straight. First, racing generates approaching half a billion pounds a year in betting duty and taxes. Second, it is not asking the government for a subsidy. Third, it has not asked the government to `cough up an extra 80 million to help out British racehorse owners'.

The Financial Plan sets out very starkly the regulatory and tax burdens under which British racing has to operate - far heavier than those faced by our international competitors. British racing is therefore asking for a more level playing field, which would enable all parts of the industry to be placed on a secure financial footing for the long term.

When the Financial Plan was launched it enjoyed huge support from within racing. That was because jockeys, trainers, owners, racecourses and stable staff know that racing needs more freedom and more investment to be able to realise its full potential and maintain its competitiveness internationally. British racing is still the best in the world. BHB is determined to keep it that way.

Tristram Ricketts

Chief Executive, British Horseracing Board, 42 Portman Square, London W1

Sir: I was disturbed to read my old friend Peter Oborne, normally so sound on these matters, describe horseracing as a subsidised industry `permanently on the scrounge'. It suits governments for people to think this, but it is simply not true.

Indeed, far from dipping into the taxpayer's wallet, the racing industry, in all its forms, contributes handsomely to the public purse. Successive chancellors have had their fingers in racing's till since off-course betting tax was introduced in 1966 (in those days it was 2.5 per cent, today it is 6.75 per cent).

Last year, the government lifted another 315 million in duty from off-course bets on racing, making it a far bigger beneficiary than the bookmakers themselves. Were the Chancellor to stop plundering the punter, racing's financial problems would be solved at a stroke via the potential for an increase in the bookmakers' levy. Racing is not asking for government handouts, but for a more equitable distribution of the enormous revenues generated by betting on horses (4.6 billion off-course last year).

There are those, of course, who argue that racing is a social menace, encouraging people like me to spend an agreeable afternoon at Cheltenham instead of toiling in the office, in which case it deserves to be taxed in order to fund hospitals, schools and other necessities. But that does not make it 'a highly cosseted and subsidised business'. Racing and those who earn their living from it are net tax payers not beneficiaries. …

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