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Jockeys rebel against the 20 million hole in horse betting

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June 24, 2019 5:34 pm

Jockeys rebel against the 20 million hole in horse betting

The horse race in Royal Ascot attracts many noble celebrities. But the British betting business is shrinking. Now trainers and riders are threatening to boycott races. Is the royal show also in danger?

At shortly before 2 pm a murmur goes through the rows of spectators. The Royal Procession begins! The Queen is coming! Surrounded by a dozen riders in bright red uniforms, four open carriages glide down the Straight Mile, the racetrack in front of the grandstand. In the second carriage, the monarch sits by her side as Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. Elizabeth II hasn’t missed a single race of the five-day event in 64 years. When she drives up in her carriage, Royal Ascot is officially opened.

Ascot has no equals in the world of horse racing. The competition in Berkshire, one hour west of London, is not only more than 300 years old. It is also pure glamour. The exquisite dresses and hats of the ladies, the classic tails and top hats of the gentlemen. The dress code is strict and mandatory.

Also financially the race is “Upper Class”. There are 8.2 million Euros of prize money to be won, which makes Ascot the best-endowed race in the kingdom. A good 300,000 visitors, who pay up to 100 euros for the entrance fee, count the racetrack at the royal race, which always takes place in June. But while the champagne corks are popping in the Royal Enclosure, the atmosphere among coaches and jockeys is not very festive. This year, their industry has to cope with a budget deficit of 20 million euros.

Favourites win the top-selling races

The reason for this is the shrinking income of bookmakers. The British betting industry has to pay ten per cent of its profit annually from horse bets that go into professional horse racing. Owners, coaches, jockeys and teams receive their share via a key. In the 2017/18 season, the payout, organised by the Horseracing Betting Levy Board, was 108 million euros. For the current season, only 88 million Euro is forecast.

The reason for this is the falling profits of betting providers. William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and others are competing for customers with increasingly attractive odds. Because many customers start with horse bets and then switch to other sports bets. But the tempting chances of winning diminish the profit of the bookmakers.

Also, this spring the favourites won the races with the highest turnover. One example is Grand National in Aintree, the national betting event, where almost 350 million euros were bet on the winner in 2019. Also this year the Irish thoroughbred Tiger Roll won, for the second time in a row. In Cheltenham, the other big race, favourites also won.

But the prospects for the participants are also gloomy for another reason. Since April, Wettshop customers have only been allowed to throw two pounds (2.25 euros) per game in gaming machines. So far, it has been a hundred pounds (112 euros). The conservative government wants to put a stop to gambling addiction. “I have seen how gambling addiction destroys lives and harms our society,” said the responsible minister Matt Hancock, explaining the drastic step.

According to industry experts, in the next two years, almost a third of the betting shops that are part of the street scene in England’s cities could be about to close. The pot, which also feeds horse owners, trainers and jockeys, is getting smaller.

Jockeys and coaches want their fair share

“It was not until 2018 that the first eight horses were introduced to receive prize money. Until then, it was only the first four. But because of the declining bookmakers’ money, this is already up for grabs again,” says Rupert Arnold.

The head of the National Trainers Federation studies the brilliantly cleaned racehorses with an expert eye at the Pre-Parade-Ring, which are presented here before the start. “We now have to ask ourselves the inevitable question: Will coaches and jockeys get their fair share of the business? We want more transparency when it comes to racetrack sales. But also in terms of income from TV broadcasting rights. In football, it has long been the case that clubs get their share. After all, there is no show without coaches and players.”

Jockey stars like Frankie Dettori with his miracle horse Stradivarius have no problem with the unequal distribution of profits. His fortune is estimated at 18 million euros. This time, too, he took more than a million pounds of prize money from Ascot. “For the top people, there is more money to win than ever before. But Dettori and a few others are the exceptions. On average, a jockey earns no more than 30,000 euros a year,” says Paul Struthers, head of the Professional Jockeys’ Association.

There are 380 professional jockeys in the country; seven years ago there were 450, “They work 70 to 80 hours a week. Every year they drive 100,000 kilometres, from race to race,” says Struthers. In February, jockeys and coaches threatened to boycott races for the first time. “We hope that the discussion with the organisers will now take the right direction,” says Struthers.

A conversation that should interest the Queen herself. After all, her horses have already won a trophy 23 times at Royal Ascot. The royal show must go on.

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