The turf

Poor prize money is killing British horseracing

28 May 2022

9:00 AM

28 May 2022

9:00 AM

Seeing Fully Wet win the European Breeders Fund Maiden Stakes at Goodwood on Saturday was a genuine source of pleasure, and not just because I had thought her the pick of the paddock and taken the 8-1. My previous ‘best in paddock’ had finished last. The good news was that Fully Wet was the first winner in Britain for Barry Schwartz, the former CEO of Calvin Klein who is a leading owner-breeder in the US. The fact that he and fellow owner Andrew Rosen have chosen to have the £120,000 filly trained in Britain by John and Thady Gosden was a ray of hope amid the gloom and doom over British prize money. All the same, watching the elegantly tailored Thady welcome Fully Wet back into the winners’ enclosure, I could not help wondering what chance he has of emulating his father’s outstanding success over the years to come despite his pedigree.

Gosden père is among the leading figures who are warning that poor prize-money levels in Britain are ensuring that British racing is being reduced to a mere nursery for racing elsewhere in the world. He points out that owners are forced to sell their ‘family silver’ horses to eager purchasers in Australia and Hong Kong to help maintain their hobby. Already he has had American owners take their horses straight off to the United States to race for better purses there, others lining-up their near-Group horses to head Down Under. Fellow trainer Ralph Beckett, who is president of the National Trainers Federation, says: ‘We all train for owners who don’t want to sell, but to remain in the game they have to.’ Trainers themselves are surviving by trading, he says: ‘That’s going to work while we have the best pedigrees, but the landscape could look very different in 20 years.’

I know that the Scottish poet Andrew Lang once declared: ‘Most people use statistics as a drunken man uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination,’ but over racing rewards they are irrefutable. Great Britain stages just six of the world’s hundred richest races. A recent Racing Post survey noted that Australia has 27, Japan 25 and Hong Kong 15. The average prize for Group One races is £1.5 million in the UAE, just above £1 million in Hong Kong and £438,000 in Australia. In Britain it is £302,000. In average prize money per race Britain is at the very bottom of the pile. David Redvers, manager of the Qatar Racing owner-breeding group, offers the example of Selino, who earned £17,000 when second in his last race in Britain, the Doncaster Cup in 2020. The next April he collected £741,292 for winning the Sydney Cup. No wonder that Qatar Racing now sends all its three-year-olds who are not Group race candidates to race in America or Australia rather than here. The sadness is that without scrapping the bookmakers and switching to a Tote monopoly it is hard to see any major improvement in the prize-money situation, and that simply isn’t going to happen.

Falling racecourse attendances as the nation tightens its collective belt to keep the heating on and the larder stocked aren’t going to help either but the one beacon of hope visible at Goodwood on Saturday was the growing number of young race-goers. OK, so they don’t all wear socks and some overdo the hair gel but we need the generation that puts leisure spending high up their personal list and they enjoyed some good finishes on Saturday and one superb front-running ride. William Muir and Chris Grassick, who share a licence, have always known that Galiac, winner of the 7f handicap, has had ability, but the tone was set when William muttered to the three-year-old as he was unsaddled: ‘Now please, please don’t kick anyone.’ At home Galiac bucks and kicks under work rider Kai Lenihan and refuses to be caught. His co-trainer revealed: ‘At home he’s just a thug. Here he was kicking and shouting. He nearly kicked the back of the stable out. I left him in the saddling boxes as long as possible to cool down and we just did one round of the parade ring before going down, but we’ve always known he was a nice horse.’ If they can get him to settle, Galiac will surely win plenty more.

Another training duo who have their horses in fine fettle are Paul and Oliver Cole whose Majestic Dawn was a clever all-the-way winner of the Listed William Hill Festival Stakes. As they had planned, Jockey Jim Crowley jumped him off in the lead and went 12 lengths clear. At the final turn he still led by eight. ‘He’ll never last,’ wagged knowing heads in the stands but this was a hare the tortoises were never going to reach and he was still three lengths clear at the post. One mile one furlong is Majestic Dawn’s distance and we should note carefully Oliver Cole’s comment: ‘If he’d run in the Cambridgeshire last year he would have won it.’

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