Talking Horses: York forced to slash prize money over Covid-19 crisis | Sport

York racecourse said on Monday that it has been forced to cut the prize money for the Ebor Festival in August by more than 50% as it attempts to cope with the loss of more than 80% of its normal annual revenue from attendance at race meetings and other events at the course. The prize funds for the Group One Juddmonte International Stakes and the Ebor Handicap, both of which were £1m races in 2019, will drop to £275,000 and £250,000 respectively, while total prize money over the four-day meeting will be £2.27m, a drop of around 57% on last year’s total of just over £5.34m.

The cut in York’s prize fund is even more significant than the drop of around 50% for Royal Ascot, which took place behind closed doors in June. The Ebor meeting’s two Group One contests in addition to the International Stakes – the Yorkshire Oaks and Nunthorpe Stakes – will both be worth £250,000, while the Gimcrack Stakes, Lonsdale Cup and City Of York Stakes, all Group Two events, will be worth £100,000 each.

Other races on York’s rearranged programme for the year have also taken big cuts in the money on offer. The Dante Stakes, the feature event on the much-delayed first day of the Knavesmire’s 2020 season this Thursday, will be worth £55,000, a drop of nearly two-thirds on 2019, while the John Smith’s Cup Handicap on 18 July will be run for £60,000, a drop of £140,000, or 70%, from 2019.

In a statement on Monday afternoon, York’s management acknowledged that “there are undoubted financial challenges this year, as over 80% of prior year annual revenues for York Racecourse flowed from the presence of a gathering, either on a race day or as part of our extensive non-raceday events programme, none of which have been permitted at the venue since mid-March”.

York is still advertising tickets for the Ebor Festival and has not entirely abandoned hope that at least some spectators will be able to attend next month’s big meeting.

“We are delighted to be back racing at York, albeit initially behind closed doors,” Lord Grimthorpe, the track’s chairman, said on Monday. “While we look forward to the day we can welcome the return of spectators and supporters to York racecourse, in the meantime I hope that people will follow and enjoy the sport on their televisions and mobile devices.”

While the depressed level of prize money at race meetings will continue for as long as spectators are banned, apprentice and conditional riders can at least look forward to a bigger slice of the reduced pots after the British Horseracing Authority said on Monday that its new – and, in some quarters, controversial – scheme of payments for up-and-coming jockeys will come into operation from 15 July.

The new regime will significantly increase the percentage of riding fees and prize money won that is retained by apprentice and conditional riders, by reducing the cut that goes to the trainer retaining them. It was initially due to launch on 1 April and has been introduced despite opposition from the National Trainers’ Federation (NTF).

Trainers currently keep between 20-50% of the riding fees and 50% of prize money earned by apprentice and conditional jockeys attached to their yard, regardless of the yard they are riding for. The new scheme will see trainers receive no more than 20% of fees or prize money from Flat apprentices, and 20% of a conditionals’ riding fee until they lose their initial 7lb claim. In return, jockeys will be expected to pay for raceday travel expenses and some items of kit, which were previously covered by their employer.

Several leading trainers, including Andrew Balding, Richard Fahey and Richard Hannon, opposed the new scheme when it was originally announced in December, claiming that it could reduce opportunities for younger riders.

The Professional Jockeys’ Association, however, is fully supportive of the move, having previously suggested that a minority of trainers were abusing the system by failing to reimburse riders for travel and other expenses.

“Whilst we have been frustrated by the additional delays we welcome the fact that the changes are finally coming in,” Paul Struthers, the PJA’s chief executive, said on Monday. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with the NTF on some of the outstanding elements that we have been discussing and on the bigger issues that impact all our members.”

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