28th February 2019

What an extraordinary day. I attended the National Trainers Federation AGM in London and it very soon became apparent that trainers in the room and those, along with many owners, communicating through social media from around the country were extremely dissatisfied with the suggestion that a deal had been struck to allow ARC to shift prize-money from better class races into the lowest grades to ‘unlock’ Levy Board funding for the low grade races and enable them to increase prize-money in  those races while still reducing their own contribution by £3 million.

The entry process for races to be run on 6th March was ongoing as the meeting started (entries close at noon) and I was astounded to receive messages from the BHA  announcing increases in prize-money for races to be run at ARC tracks on 6th March and an extended entry deadline to 1pm as Lingfield races, in particular, weren’t attracting enough entries. But trainers weren’t buying this move to ‘rob Peter and pay Paul’ and stood steadfastly behind the principle that ARC must reinstate their own contributions rather than simply creaming money off different races.

After the new entry deadline at 1pm, in another totally unprecedented move, the BHA reopened four of the races at Lingfield until tomorrow. Under the new transparent entry system for flat races there have been no re-opened races through the winter period – the rules don’t allow for it – but it seems that, today, someone at the BHA was rewriting the rules and moving the goalposts as the saga unfolded.

It is going to be extremely interesting to see what happens next. I have never known trainers so angered over prize-money. Clearly ARC and other racecourses have come to think that, with owners and trainers accepting derisory returns for so long, they could simply do as they pleased and horses would turn up regardless to allow their businesses to operate.  They may have to think again.

Whatever happens, this the second major shot over ARC’s bows in a week and others had better take note too. Feelings were running high over the BHA’s part in proceedings and there was little doubt that what some had thought was an ROA and NTF party line was not going to be supported by owners and trainers.

And, in the midst of all this, Norman Gundill of Pontefract announced that they intend to cut prize-money. Not a clever move. Whats’s more, in an attempt to stress that the reduction is ‘provisional’, he said “If the projected reduction in media rights income does not materialise, we expect to reinstate some, but not all, of the reductions.” Eh? So he is admitting that it isn’t really about FOBTs at all. They have just seen an opportunity to pay less and thought they would take it. I’d think again, Norman.

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