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Jumps meetings will suffer most as tracks struggle with cuts 27/08/2010
Will Hayler
Lower crowds and higher costs mean that midweek winter jumps fixtures are more vulnerable than Flat cards

Jumps racing is expected to suffer more than Flat racing from the proposed fixtures cull, with officials raising the possibility of several blank days during the core jumps season. The revelation comes as the sport's administrators deal with the need to cut costs, caused by a drop in the revenue flowing from bookmakers.

Several courses are facing up to critical changes in their business plans, following the British Horseracing Authority's announcement last month that dramatic changes would be made to next year's fixture list, to take account of dwindling income from the levy on bookmakers' profits. Stephen Atkin, chief executive of the Racecourse Association (RCA), has been locked in negotiations ever since with the Horsemen's Group, representing owners, trainers and jockeys, as well as other interested parties.

It is the BHA's decision to kill off 150 fixtures it controls that threatens jumps racing far more than its Flat counterpart. An RCA proposal has now been tabled that would allow any racecourse to retain one of these fixtures, if it is able to bankroll an agreed minimum level of prize money, essentially funding the meeting from its own profits. The BHA has little incentive to deny such a proposal, since those meetings will generate betting and so boost levy funds.

But racecourses are unlikely to stump up the necessary funds for midweek jumps fixtures through January and February, when crowds are low, especially as jumps fixtures invariably cost more to stage. Using this year's fixture list as a guide, the cull may have led to no jumps racing taking place for six days after 2 January, a time of year when the major trainers are keen to prepare horses for the Cheltenham Festival.

"By allowing BHA fixtures to be run with no prize money funding and only a grant for basic integrity costs, the levy should be quids in," Atkin said, "but it's hard not to see how jumps racing will lose 40 fixtures or so in January and February."

The BHA has ruled that the racecourses and the Horsemen's Group have only until 20 September, the date of the BHA's next board meeting, to reach agreement on funding issues. "There isn't much time, but I hope that, by the end of the process, we will have reached decisions whereby every racecourse has been treated fairly," Atkin said.

The BHA also insists that full levy funding will be available only for two race-meetings each Saturday, with 50% funding available for two more. Any additional meetings would only get grants to cover regulation costs. There have been six or seven cards on summer Saturdays this year.

Ed Gretton, clerk of the course at Chester and Bangor, which are in the same ownership, outlined how these changes would affect the two tracks. While prepared to boost prize money in order to ensure that most of Chester's five Saturday fixtures retain premier status and full funding, he is resigned to the prospect of losing three of Bangor's 17 fixtures next year.

"If we need to dig deep at Chester then that's what we will do," he said. "There is a lot to fight for and we want to keep improving our racing programme and making it stronger. But at Bangor, if we need to put up, say, £50,000 in prize money in order to keep the fixture, then the sums just don't add up and that's going to have inevitable consequences."