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Bookies will use every means in Turf TV war 06/06/2007
Greg Wood

David Harding, perhaps the most aggressive figure on the bookmakers' side of the dispute over live coverage of racing in betting shops, said yesterday that William Hill will use "every means at our disposal - legal, commercial and political" as the firm attempts to win what he has characterised as a "war" declared on bookmakers by the racing industry.

Harding, the chief executive of William Hill, made it clear that his company is not about to follow the lead of the Tote and agree to sign a contract with the new firm Turf TV, which represents 31 British tracks. At present, only six of these are not covered by an existing contract with Satellite Information Services (SIS), in which Hill's has a shareholding, though these include Ascot, which will stage its Royal meeting later this month.

As a result, the two races at Ascot on each of the five days of the Royal meeting not broadcast live on the BBC will not be shown in most betting shops. From January, meanwhile, all non-terrestrial racing coverage from Turf TV's tracks will be available only to those bookmakers who have agreed to take its service.

Rather than coming together as that deadline starts to loom, however, the two sides appear to be heading away from each other, with Harding now freely describing the situation as a "war" with racing itself, rather than just the courses involved.

"Racing has declared war on us and we are responding," Harding said yesterday. "I'm certainly not going to announce my tactics before I put them into practice, but in a war, you use every means at your disposal - legal, commercial and political.

"The maths involved here are very simple. At the moment, the bookmaking industry pays £90m to racing through the Levy and another £30m for pictures. If we are forced to take this Turf TV, our costs will be forced up by £50m.

"Of that, racing will get only £10m to £15m. Alphameric [a partner company and technology provider to Turf TV] will also get £10m to £15m and the rest will go in duplicated infrastructure costs.

"If I can do those sums, why can't racing's rulers? Why should we continue to pay a subsidy if our costs have been forced up by £50m? Racing is putting its state-sponsored subsidy [the Levy] in jeopardy."

To date, racing's senior administrators have kept out of the dispute. Nic Coward, who will soon take over as chief executive of the sport's new ruling body, the British Horseracing Authority, described it to The Guardian last week as a "commercial issue and one that has to be seen as such."

However, Harding said yesterday that it was time for "racing's ruling bodies to get off the fence, because the path that's been embarked upon cannot be good for racing."

Kieren Fallon, whose ban from race- riding after a failed drugs test is due to end at midnight tonight, could be riding in Ireland tomorrow according to the Irish Turf Club. "He has applied for his licence, which he will get," Denis Egan, the ITC's spokesman, said yesterday. "He can ride at Tipperary on Thursday if he wants to."

The Derby, which ended its long association with Vodafone after Saturday's running, has yet to finalise a deal with a new sponsor, despite persistent rumours linking Emirates Airlines to the backing of the Epsom Classic.

"These rumours have not emanated from either the racecourse or from Emirates," Stephen Wallis, Epsom's managing director, said yesterday. "We are still talking to interested parties."