UK Levy Board won’t save dying courses; Irish want more; Italians get more

levy-board-irish-italianUK Levy Board chairman Douglas Erskine-Crum says the board will not ride to the rescue of financially failing racecourses. In Erskine-Crum’s view, while the Board may produce fixture criteria calling for a certain number of meetings per day, “where those fixtures are run is not up to us, it is up to racing.” The Board’s job is “to generate Levy and to try to improve horse racing with what we collect,” but “will not provide funding just because it looks as if [certain racecourses] are going under.”

Obviously, Erskine-Crum believes it would be a shame to see courses go under, especially since the likeliest candidates for closure would be “smaller jumping tracks, which are very important to us from Monday to Thursday in the winter months, and also as nurseries for the meetings at big tracks.” To help gauge the health of courses, the Board is using bookmaker-supplied info to measure which tracks are generating what Levy. Erskine-Crum says the Grand National generates 1% of the annual total, Cheltenham produces 2% and Royal Ascot just under 2%. Ten meetings (out of 1,300 total) accounted for 5% of the Levy.

Across the Irish Sea, Horse Racing Ireland CEO Brian Kavanagh told the nation’s agriculture, food and forestry committee that most of the horse industry’s woes could be blamed on the government’s reduction of the betting levy from 5% in 2001 to 1% in 2006. Since then, the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund’s annual take has fallen from €76m in 2008 to €57 in 2010. No money means no domestic industry development, and Irish horse owners choosing to race in France, where steep government taxation means an industry (one company, actually) with deep pockets. Kavanagh might not have any money, but he has his pride, saying he “does not want the taxpayer in Ireland to directly subvent the industry through the exchequer.” Except in this case.

Fear not, Brian. The Italian government has heard your pleas (or at least someone who sounded a lot like you, only with an Italian accent). Agriculture Minister Giancarlo Galan has put forth a bill to restructure UNIRE, Italian racing’s governing body, and provide a €150m cash injection to the struggling industry. Twisting the knife in Brian’s back a little deeper, Galan told Parliament that Italian horseracing requires a permanent boost into the saddle every year, much as is done to support the country’s Olympic committee. Perhaps Irish horsemen should contemplate a five-day strike like the Italians had threatened. Aren’t there a lot of horses pulling those Guinness wagons around?