Austerity at the races: trainers boycott race over paltry prize
Barbour-clad brigade are not waving placards yet – but they're angry about falling prize money
THE natives are restless. I'm not talking about Spain, or Greece, where anti-austerity protestors have been taking to the streets, but about the - usually - more placid world of British jump racing.
On Wednesday night, the last race at Worcester became a 'walkover' as ten trainers withdrew their horses in protest at the very low prize money on offer - just £3,000. That's a paltry sum when you consider that it costs an average of £16,000 a year to keep a horse in training.
As planned, one horse stayed in the race, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained mare Moulin De La Croix, and the money she won will be used to help the ten trainers who pulled out pay their mandatory £140 fines.
The BHA, racing's governing body, are not too happy at this insurrection in the ranks. They have warned, rather ominously, that they reserve the right to take "further action" against the rebellious trainers.
The bookies are fuming too, with Ladbrokes' corporate affairs director Ciaran O'Brien telling the Racing Post: "This is a poor way to treat racing's primary commercial partner and a poor way to treat betting shop customers".
Unabashed by the criticism, the trainer who led the boycott, Charlie Mann (above), is pledging further action. "Worcester's owners are making too much money and they are not giving enough back to us. We will do it next week if we need to, and with the entry system it's not difficult to target races," he told the Racing Post.
Why is this happening? Quite simply, jump racing reflects what's been going on elsewhere in society where, as we hardly need reminding, those at the top have seen their earnings soar in the past 30 years or so while those on middle and lower incomes have fallen badly behind.
The top races on the Flat and over jumps pay out very good prize money, significantly more than 20 years ago. For example, the 1990 Derby offered total prize money of £580,000, while this year the pot was up to £1,325,000. The winner of the 1990 Grand National, Mr Frisk, won £70,000 for his connections; the winner of the 2012 race, Neptune Collonges, bagged a cool £500,000.
But while it's been a bonanza at the top, at the middle and lower end of the scale, it's a very different story. On 25 January 1990, the first prize for winning a 0-70 7f handicap at Southwell was £2,427. In January 2011, two decades later, the first prize for winning a 0-70 7f handicap at Southwell was - wait for it - £1,978.
The posh word for this economic model is 'neo-liberalism' and we see its consequences in all aspects of our lives. Last November's report from the High Pay Commission revealed that in 1979 the top pay at Barclays Bank was 14.5 times that of the average company worker. By 2011, it was 75 times.
In football, the Champions League has led to the formation of a self-perpetuating elite which is impossible for smaller clubs to break into. The top teams qualify each year for the Champions League, and use the money on offer to buy the best players, which ensures they stay at the top. (Things could be done differently- in the NFL in America, the college draft system means that the football team that finishes last has the first choice of eligible college players for the following year, ensuring that everyone has a chance of success.)
The extra money at the top is not, by and large, new money – it's money that has been transferred from the middle and lower classes to the upper echelons.
Bank CEOs would not receive quite so much remuneration if customers received more (or in some cases, any) interest on their current accounts, or if credit card rates weren't so high - or if high street bank clerks, whose salaries range from £10,213 to £21,532, received a better deal.
Wayne Rooney's £8m-a-year contract with Manchester United is, in part at least, paid for by the £950 that Red Devils fans must pay for a season ticket in Tier 1 of the Sir Alex Ferguson stand at Old Trafford.
As with football, there's an awful lot of money in horse-racing. Arena Leisure plc, the owners of Worcester racecourse, announced a 15 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £4.2m earlier this year.
The problem is that the lolly is not being shared out as fairly as it was in the more egalitarian, social-democratic 1970s.
The Barbour-clad National Hunt trainers boycotting the 9.10 at Worcester are not yet waving placards. But they're feeling seriously short-changed.