Lingfield Arena Racing Company (Arc) boss Martin Cruddace defiantly faced down threats of further boycotts from trainers over prize-money, insisting such action would not change the group’s position and was in fact hurting racing rather than helping it.
Cruddace was on course at Lingfield on Saturday where the Betway Winter Derby card was reduced from seven races to five and a walkover by an orchestrated trainers’ protest against the reduced prize-money offered by Arc in lower grade races.
The cuts come as Arc prepares for an anticipated drop in income from media rights payments as a result of projected betting shops closures following on from the government’s reduction in FOBT (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) stakes to £2 from £100.
In December, Cruddace revealed Arc would be cutting nearly £3 million from executive contributions to prize-money, which had the knock-on effect of denying the group £4.5-million of levy funding for lower-grade races.
Rumours were rife on Saturday regarding further possible boycotts from trainers in the weeks ahead, yet Cruddace insisted he would not budge. “We are braced for further action because we’ve heard rumours and we’ve got intelligence, but we’ll deal with it as and when. It will not achieve its purpose – of that I can 100% assure you.”
Cruddace is hoping progress will be made at a meeting tomorrow between the Racecourse Association, the horsemen and the BHA, and that a way can be found to release £4.5million that has been allocated to Arc for its lower class races.
However, he is standing firm on Arc’s resolve not to contribute the £2.7-million of its own money that would be required to unlock it under current arrangements. “I’m very anxious that we work with the other parties to see if we can find a resolution to this, but the resolution will not be that we pay the £2.7-million. I’m absolutely adamant about that, and if anything I’m more adamant about it than I ever was because I don’t think boycotting these races is the right way to proceed.”
Owners and trainers found support for their boycott over reduced prize-money from racegoers on the terraces at Lingfield on Saturday as more professionals came out in favour of further action.
Dennis Keeling, from Croydon, said: “I think the trainers have a point about prize-money and I understand their position. Who wants to run for £3,000 when you might have paid £150,000 for your horse? It won’t spoil our day.”
Lesley Hurlstone, making a first visit on a pre-booked day out from Solihull, said: “We’re very disappointed. We go racing all the time and booked this months ago because we’ve never been to Lingfield.
“We booked expecting a full card and we’ve only got five races and most of them are small fields. It affected the Placepot, Eachway betting and all sorts of things so we felt cheated. We went to the office to complain and they just gave us a token for a free drink, which I don’t think is good enough.”
The Racehorse Syndicates Association, which has 4,538 members involved in 590 horses who mostly compete in the lower grade races affected by lower prizes, joined in the condemnation of Arc.
The RSA is supporting the boycott but called for a strategic approach from all sides with “a longer-term, industry-wide, collaborative plan of action to address the situation.”
Jon Hughes, a RSA committee member and Owners for Owners syndicate manager, said: “I’ve already instructed my five trainers, who have 22 horses, to avoid all low prize-money races wherever practicable. Owners need to be supported not insulted by racecourses in this Arc debacle.”