More trainers and many owners are going to follow Ed Vaughan out of horse racing, according to one well connected trainer who has had to shift part of his business to France to make ends meet. Christian Leech, who, with his wife, Sophie, is normally based at their stable near Gloucester, is summering with some of their horses at Lamorlaye near Chantilly and relishing the better prize money on offer.
“It’s a complete no-brainer,” he said on Monday. “We had a horse finish second at Uttoxeter last Thursday, a decent race in terms of quality, and the prize money was £1,000. Of that, we get 5%, which is £50.
“We finished second in a claimer at Clairefontaine on Saturday, which was €3,600 for second place and the prize money share for trainers over here, win and place, is 14%. So that was worth over €500 for a much lesser contest. It’s not even close.”
Leech runners pinched a fair chunk of French prize money in guerilla raids last summer, prompting them to look for a base in the country this time. They have six horses there just now, with plans to swap some for other horses currently in Gloucestershire from time to time. Leech believes it is the only way to keep his business going and would not be surprised if other British trainers followed him over.
“I don’t think it’s sustainable for us to stay in the UK solely,” said Leech, who previously worked at the British Horseracing Authority and the Jockey Club. “What we earn in France is basically subsidising what we’re losing in England.
“They’ve obviously had to cut prize money here but it’s been by 20% to 25%. We were third in the Grand Steeplechase de Dieppe last week, which is worth €40,000. I don’t know when the next jumps race in Britain is going to be worth that much.
“There are so many owners now who have been supportive for years on pretty low levels of prize money, but now that they’re seeing they have a 120-rated horse who’s trying to win £3,500, which is barely going to cover two months’ training fees, they’re not going to stay in the sport. We’re going to lose an awful lot of owners and in turn that means we’re going to lose trainers.”
Like many other horsemen, Leech feels racecourses are not doing enough to provide prize money to feed the sport’s professionals, though he excepts plucky, hard-working independents like Ludlow and Newton Abbot. “The least we can expect is transparency about the media rights income,” he said.
“There’s a huge amount of frustration from owners and trainers just not being able to see what the revenue streams are. If the racecourses are, as they claim, struggling, why can’t they publish the figures so we can see why prize money needs to be cut to this extent?
“The racecourses seem to be taking such a short-term view.” A shortage of prize money now, Leech argues, will lead to fewer owners, trainers and horses in the coming years, leading directly to reduced income for tracks.
“Part of the problem is apathy. Back in April, it was announced that jump racing would be suspended for two and a half months. There was no widespread consultation on that and I was absolutely furious, along with others who didn’t necessarily want to put their names forward.”
Tuesday’s best bets
Mister Tickle (4.30) is the most interesting runner of the day, being on offer at 15-2 at Stratford. The winner of his only point in Ireland, he showed something in his first handicap hurdle last May.
Two runs last term, including his chase debut, came on unsuitably testing ground. It would also have to be noted that he was then with a trainer who has never had a winner over fences but he has since joined Gary Moore. It is worth taking the chance of an improved showing here.
City Escape (2.45) makes her handicap debut at Chepstow with the Rae Guest yard hitting its stride. She caught the eye with a nearest-finish fourth at Lingfield last month, when allowed to start at 50-1. Alas, only 5-2 is on offer.
I thought Setarhe (7.15) would be better than 3-1 for the Star Stakes at Sandown, with people getting excited about Fev Rover’s run in the Cherry Hinton. The step up to seven furlongs is really good news for Setarhe, as is the return to a quick surface, but she makes only some appeal at those odds.
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