Sport

Talking Horses: prize money switch under fire after Cheltenham drubbing

Punters will not notice quite a significant change to the way British racing operates from Saturday afternoon, but owners certainly will and not all of them will be entirely happy with the results. From the first race of the weekend, when the Flat season on turf is due to get under way at Doncaster, prize money will be divided up under a new formula devised by the Horsemen’s Group – which includes owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff – which aims to spread the returns to owners more evenly from top to bottom of the racing pyramid.

The new system will see just over half of the prize fund for a race (53.3% to be precise) going to the winner, with the second (26.7%), third (13.3%) and fourth-placed runners (5.33%) receiving around 50% of money won by the horse in front of them. This replaces a split – around 64.6%, 19%, 9.6% and 4.8% – which handed a significantly higher proportion of the prize fund to the winner.

Announcing the new formula on Thursday, the Racehorse Owners Association said that a survey of its members had suggested that “54%” supported “a redistribution of money to placed horses in non-Pattern races”, and that 70% said that “they struggled to understand” the current system.

“Many cited the ‘triple loss’ of missing out on the thrill of winning, finishing second and receiving just 33% of the winner’s prize money, and then getting between 50% to 80% of the winner’s handicap increase, jeopardising future earnings,” Ken McGarrity, an ROA board member, said. “The new 50% principle is fairer and simple to understand for owners, trainers and stable staff.”

The Horsemen’s Group estimates that the new formula will “provide an additional £7.5m in prize money to placed owners in non-pattern races, increasing median earnings by 12.5%”, and that “trainers will also see median earnings in non-pattern races increasing by up to 9%”.

The intention, it seems, is to push at least some of the prize money earned by a small number of super-rich owners at the pinnacle of the racing pyramid down towards the much smaller one- or two-horse owners at the bottom, which is quite an egalitarian – some might say, almost socialist – attitude to adopt in a highly competitive sport.

As some of the larger owners already seem to be pointing out, however, the new formula will shift around what is already there but will not increase the size of the overall pool – which still lags well behind the rewards on offer in Ireland and France.

As such, while it might help to retain owners at the lower levels of the sport, it does little to encourage the major players to send the most expensive yearlings and jumping prospects to British stables. In fact, it could be argued that it will do the exact opposite, at a time when British jumping is still coming to terms with its drubbing at Cheltenham earlier this month.

Friday’s best bets
Two near-walkovers bookend the Newbury card but the racing in between is pretty competitive for the mid-Festival lull and Saint De Reve (2.40) looks like the one to be on in the BetVictor Handicap Chase.

Nine go to post over two-and-three-quarter miles and it is difficult to rule out any of them with confidence, but the novice has more scope for progress than most with just two starts over fences to date. He unseated three out on his debut but showed a lot more promise when second in a well-run race last time and could also find improvement for a step back up in trip.