It might surprise you that the great Nelson Mandela is being linked to the horseracing industry, but at a time of great upheaval in some facets of the sport they’re clutching at all the straws they can find – which is four and a half if you’re wondering. This is the position Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) chief Paul Lee currently finds himself in, and why he feels racing needs a bit of Mandela-style magic to go forward.
An article in York Press quotes the HBLB chief’s speech at the 240th Gimcrack Dinner, which he used to explain the quandary the industry currently finds itself concerning the levy.
“Neither side is completely at fault, but each side has faults. This industry needs a ‘Mandela moment’. We need to put the past behind us and move on. History can inform us but cannot shape the future.
“We are where we are. We do not have a Tote monopoly – and indeed the benefits of choice and competition have long been seen to be desirable. Racing has to work with betting because it is not going to go away. We need new ways of working together.”
As we’ve seen in the past few months, the likelihood of both sides of the fence actually coming to some sort of agreement are very low. The fact that the sides are so far apart in what they estimate should be the contribution by bookmakers doesn’t help, but thankfully culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will be making the decisions and the two sides don’t actually have to come to an agreement. If that were the case you could see a stand-off akin to the negotiations between Pac Man and Mayweather taking place.
Newmarket trainer William Haggas also used the dinner to take a swipe at the online gambling exchange Betfair.
He said: “I wish somehow we could find a way that Betfair could contribute just a small percentage of their turnover back to the sport that brought them into the world.
“We have a problem when a maiden race at Wolverhampton attracts £800,000 turnover on Betfair and we are racing for £1,500 – never mind the appalling demands on stable staff especially at twilight/evening meetings and the immense costs to owners, trainers and jockeys. The imbalance is absurd.”