SVREL and purse-money issues
FOR the second time in five months, thousands of horse-racing punters and persons whose livelihood depend on a race meet at Caymanas Park were left dreading an abandonment of last Saturday’s St Leger card, nervously keeping ears tuned to purse-money deliberations between horsemen and promoting company, Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL).
It wasn’t until late Thursday evening that a resolution was reached, enabling a race programme with amended purses, a commitment of an additional $30 million for six months, July-December, but hinged on a percentage of gross gaming revenue (local-racing sales minus payouts), which SVREL hopes will continue showing growth over the period.
Amid spending millions on infrastructure improvements since assuming operations at Caymanas Park in March 2017, SVREL has constantly had purse-money issues with horsemen hanging over its head like the sword of Damocles, despite an initial $100-million injection before the first race was run under its banner.
The first threat of aborting a race meet this season was late January. After a $9-million offer was flatly rejected, SVREL coughed up $18 million, described then as a ‘one-time incentive’ over five months, starting February and ‘expiring’ June 30, to which the horsemen agreed, relenting on their initial ask of a $70-million increase in purses.
SVREL, in a news release detailing the $18-million addition, reminded the horsemen of a memorandum of understanding, signed May 11, 2020, that had spoken to future negotiations being by “implementation of a committee, consisting of representatives from SVREL and all relevant stakeholders, to craft and agree a formula linking purses to movements in revenues and costs”.
Last week, in addition to haggling over what percentage of gross gaming revenue would be used to determine the July-December purse addition, distribution of the added money to the various levels of horses was also a sticking point, an argument which should be a non-starter, easily resolved by the mere fact that more money must go to the higher groups at which fewer races are run.
IMPORTANT FOR TRANSPARENCY
An agreement to tie purse increases to gross gaming revenue is particularly important for transparency, especially at a racetrack still in its infancy of privatisation after living off the hog of government coffers for decades, being accustomed to taxpayers’ monies being wantonly thrown into the black hole of state-run Caymanas Track Limited (CTL).
Horsemen, whose cries have perennially been ‘lock it down’, whenever their purse demands aren’t satisfied, are now faced with life in the corporate world. Though purse money is an important incentive to own horses, it will never reach levels capable of keeping pace with the costs to maintain a racehorse, a ridiculous juxtaposition often posited by horsemen during negotiations.
SVREL, which had submitted a $708-million purse package for the 2022 season to the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC), has effectively followed up with two increases, $18 million and $30 million, respectively, bumping purses by $48 million, the second addition being historically agreed on a formula tied to revenues.
There is no such thing as a ‘professional’ or ‘career’ racehorse owner. Ownership of a racehorse is no different from any other expensive leisure activity, to be undertaken only by those who can afford to do so, either solely or by way of partnerships.
Purse money represents prizes won by owners from which the ‘professionals’ – jockeys, trainers and grooms – earn a percentage. The contentious ‘breeders bonus’ is also deducted from the winning owner’s purse, long after the animal has exchanged hands for cash and become the responsibility of its new owner, a sum almost equivalent to that received by connections of third-past-the-post, which many believe should be removed and redistributed among the earners from each race.
However, blurred lines, owner-breeders being among the negotiating team across the table from the promoting company, have kept other owners’ concerns over the ’bonus-for-life’ firmly swept under the carpet of self-interest.
NO ACROSS-THE-BOARD ‘BREEDERS BONUS’
In North America, there is no across-the-board ‘breeders bonus’. Instead, each state has varying ways of incentivising breeders by offering races restricted to animals foaled within that jurisdiction. There is also a Stallion Award for winners of certain categories of races whose sires were bred within the state. Interestingly, some states flatly do not offer bonuses of any kind in claiming races.
In the United Kingdom, there is a Great British Bonus, cited as “an industry-wide prize scheme for breeders and owners of British-bred flat and jump fillies, predominantly funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board (bookmakers’ tax) and registration-fee income from owners and breeders (equivalent of registration fees paid to the JRC)”.
Quoting directly from greatbritishbonus.co.uk, note the language and intent of its scheme:
By offering large bonuses on top of race prize money, the Great British Bonus scheme is intended to incentivise owners to invest in British-bred fillies and support the British racing programme, on the Flat and for Jumps. It also aims to improve the demand for British-bred fillies at the sales and ensure that more fillies are tested as racehorses, thus underpinning selection for breeding on the basis of racing ability.
Word has it that the recent negotiations have heightened interest by owners concerned about an inactive Jamaica Racehorse Owners Association (JROA), which could result in an election being called. Revamping the breeders’ ‘bonus for life’ must be among the first order of business for any new executive of the JROA, unless, again, blurred lines prevail.
Next week, SVREL’s improved gross gaming revenue, which made the $48-million addition to purses possible, will share the spotlight with what should be a national undertaking, establishment of a national stud, the infrastructure for which is staring the industry in its face and former CTL director, Richard Lake, being in contact with a source, who has identified two stallions from Europe.
Ainsley ‘Jimmie’ Walters has been covering horse racing for more than 25 years for the Gleaner Company (Media) Limited and is the editorial and production coordinator for the Track And Pools race form.