Racing: Savill delivers parting shot with new fixtures shake-up

Peter Savill, the chairman of the British Horseracing Board, presented a dramatically different blueprint for the governance and development of racing yesterday as his parting shot to the sport before retiring after six turbulent years at the helm.

Peter Savill, the chairman of the British Horseracing Board, presented a dramatically different blueprint for the governance and development of racing yesterday as his parting shot to the sport before retiring after six turbulent years at the helm.

Many of the changes have been forced on Savill and the BHB after being cornered by the Office of Fair Trading to cede some of its powers. That department will now call off its investigation into whether the BHB and Jockey Club have breached competition law.

The key points of the BHB report, The Modernisation of British Racing, are: the separation of the governance and commercial arms of the BHB; the introduction of greater competition between courses for fixtures; wholesale changes to the allocation of income gained from the sale of the BHB's database.

One change which will affect every punter is the introduction of more tightly graded handicaps and the restriction of maximum field sizes in most races to 14. This is sure to affect lower-grade sprint handicaps, which often attract big fields.

Mark Johnston, president of the National Trainers Federation, said: "Restricting maximum field sizes is a sensible decision and I think you will find there is a lot of support for it from most trainers. Running horses in big-field events where the runners split into two or three groups is a waste of time for owners and trainers.

"The bookmakers have been telling us for some time that apart from the big traditional handicaps, turnover goes down when the number of runners gets beyond a certain level because punters just find the races impossible to solve."

By limiting field sizes in most races, the 2006 fixture list will be expanded to 1,500 meetings. All fixtures will be divided into one of two groups ­ racecourse fixtures (of which there will be a fixed total of 1203) and BHB fixtures (which will start at 297).

Richard Caborn MP, the Minister for Sport, said: "The OFT investigation has made the sport take a fresh look at itself and I think racing will be the better for it."

Representatives of both sides in the stalls-handlers' dispute, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the employers RaceTech, will meet in Newmarket today in an attempt to avert industrial action at Royal Ascot next week.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Lady Georgina

(Goodwood 6.50)

NB: Sunset Mirage

(Sandown 4.15)

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