Sunday Supplement: A Hardy Perennial

Tony Stafford

Tony Stafford

Sunday supplement 

By Tony Stafford 

I was with Kieren Fallon the other morning as he looked over the results from Kempton – where he rode a nice winner – the night before. He said: “Look at that, three races worth £2,200, three at £1,600. It’s ridiculous.” For the record the other two races were worth respectively six and four grand.

For the owners, who get around 75 per cent of the penalty value, there’s the cost of transport (including stable staff to get the horses there) and also the jockey to account for. Not much left if you’ve come a long way. Kieren and his pals end up with around five per cent of the total prize, seven of the penalty value when they win. So he’ll have got a £150 winning bonus to add to his three-figure per race riding fee.

Kieren’s observation could easily have been targeted at some of the other fixtures – especially at Arena/ Northern tracks which habitually “boast” an even starker lower average prize. The conversation caused me this morning to peruse a few of my remaining old volumes that survived the 2002 cull of boxes’ full of racing form and biography from my then capacious attic in Hertfordshire.

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In 1992 for example, low-grade races rarely fell below a winning figure of £2,200, although one day on the Lingfield all-weather – still in its infancy – there were races of just over a grand. In the present sphere of activity, you can even get some bumpers winning prizes below a grand.

It made me think that in real terms, prize money must be miles below that of 1992. We have a system nowadays when the massive prizes open to the top races seem out of proportion to those at the next level down. So Qipco Champions Day in three weeks’ time features races worth far more than two decades ago.

Even then, some of the races formerly attached to Ascot but now at Newmarket, like the Fillies’ Mile and Royal Lodge have been significantly demeaned. In 1992 the Fillies’ Mile – Group 1 for two year olds – carried a £91,000 prize. The 2012 vintage at Newmarket the other day was worth £85,000. The Royal Lodge, £66,000 in 1992, was down to £56,000, yet still retaining Group 2 status.

Those facts caused me to look at the relative value of sterling in those periods. The starting point for calculations on the web site I saw, used 1971 as the base point. You could say it was the last time a pound was worth a pound.

I was 26 then, and already on my way to the Daily Telegraph. In the next 21 years I noticed my money going up each year, but hardly realising that by 1992, the pound then had a buying value of just 0.152 of its earlier value. In other words, it was worth one seventh of what it was in 1971.

The drop in the 20 years since has been less steep, but a pound now reflects 0.09 of the 1971 pound. That’s around three-fifths of the 1992 value and one-eleventh of those heady Harold Wilson days of happy memory – not Harold, just what you could buy for the “pound in your pocket”.

Meanwhile France, fuelled by its Pari-Mutuel; the US, by revenues from on- and off-track casinos; Australia, by burgeoning demand; and, the Far East, again using the racecourse monopoly on betting revenues, thrive. Prize money in those countries goes ever upward, ours stagnates almost to the point of nothingness.

It could have been different. If Wolverhampton, Lingfield and presumably a number other tracks had been allowed to introduce “Racinos”, more income would have flowed. Instead, Government has allowed the betting shops to become ad hoc mini-casinos, diverting much of the money – admittedly as well as that of new, younger, non-racing patrons – that was formerly the exclusive preserve of racing and dogs, into their levy-excluded coffers.

Yet still people have horses. They all almost have to be persuaded that they are merely cannon fodder for the bookmakers. Unless you have a 90-rated horse there’s no point in racing him. Win a £1,600 race and so what? Up 6lb, you won’t win again until he drops back down. The only saving grace is the unique selling attraction of horses raced in a highly-competitive, drug-free environment, as long as they are 90-plus. As to the jockeys, they fly around the country, hundreds of miles at a time, hostage to relentlessly increasing petrol prices with the threat of burn-out ever present.

Kieren, whom I’ve known for years, is a much more obviously reflective character these days, preferring to ride for people he knows and likes, and if the numbers aren’t there to get a sixth title, he can dovetail in a fair bit of golf to keep the batteries charged.

I’m going to Bath tomorrow where 99 horses from all over the country, and 47 jockeys, including apprentices, will be battling for the £18,000 total prize money on offer. Meanwhile Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney can rest content that the £500,000 they jointly earned over the past seven days at least helped them to a brave 2-3 reverse in the home game against Tottenham. Who says it’s a fair world?

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