Racing: Owners and jockeys call for a two-day strike: Paul Hayward on a mounting revolution within racing with participants prepared to protest against underfunding

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The Independent Online
A TWO-DAY strike is being urged on the Jockey Club by a group of leading owners, trainers and jockeys disaffected by racing's deepening financial malaise. One prominent owner, Bill Gredley, whose User Friendly won this year's St Leger, has called for a boycott of the three race meetings scheduled for 2 November.

Racing is split between a militant faction pressing for stoppages to support the case for higher funding and a moderate group who believe that the fledgling British Horseracing Board should be given a chance to solve the sport's problems. A petition, in the form of a book, has been circulating with those in favour of action signing the front and those against being listed at the back.

The more radical trainers - including many of the top names in Newmarket and the Lambourn valley - want the Jockey Club to withdraw the racing programme on two consecutive days so that the Government suffer a loss of betting revenue and bookmakers are hit by a severe drop in turnover. Gredley estimates that a one-day halt would cost the Government pounds 775,000 and the bookies pounds 250,000.

Gredley, a wealthy businessman and self-proclaimed Thatcherite who has won pounds 403,000 in prize-money this year through User Friendly's British wins alone, is an unlikely revolutionary. However, yesterday he said: 'There seems to be no other way we can get our voices heard. I don't expect it be a 100 per cent success, but if there is a reaction then maybe we will reintroduce it until such time as the Government responds.'

Specifically, Gredley wants owners and trainers to refuse to enter horses at Newcastle, Wolverhampton and Plumpton on 2 November, a quiet Monday. The aim is to persuade the Government to reduce its tax take-out on betting turnover from its current level of pounds 320m. Many of the malcontents, however, believe that the bookmakers and not Customs and Excise should be the target.

Strong language is being employed by people usually associated with intense conservatism. There is a sense of guilt, too, that the outside world will see these protests as the tantrums of the rich, and while trainers and owners keep repeating the fact that racing and betting are Britain's sixth biggest industry, comparisons with the fate of the miners are also being made to deflate the sport's claims of injustice.

'Given the scale of the Government's economic problems, have they really got time to worry about the racing industry?' Roger Charlton, a Derby-winning trainer, said. One leading jockey, exemplifying the mood of dissent, said: 'I don't know why we're talking about one day. We might as well make it a week. Do it properly.'

Gredley claims to have the support of 'leading Jockey Club members', though he does not say who they are. The Maktoum family, Britain's leading owners, have also been approached, while another idea that has been discussed during secret meetings in Newmarket is a horsebox blockade of Whitehall.

The Jockey Club is rejecting the idea of a strike, but its authority has long since been engulfed by the noise of competing demands.

Racing, pages 44 and 45