Racing: Owners back off from boycott

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The Independent Online
MILITANCY among racing's 10,000 owners was all but ruled out yesterday when the threat of a boycott, raised within the Racehorse Owners' Association, receded. No immediate action is likely despite a strong undercurrent of frustration at the standard of facilities for owners at Britain's 59 racecourses.

In a less confrontational move, owners are to be asked to fill out a questionnaire with their worst criticisms, to see whether the ROA holds a mandate to call for action.

Only 4,000 of Britain's registered owners are members of the ROA, and collective action to improve their lot has regularly promised more than has been delivered. In fact, Paul Locke, a successful owner and the new president of the ROA, thinks that the results of the latest questionnaire will prove indecisive.

He said yesterday: 'The most important thing in a survey of this nature is how many people reply at all. If I had to bet I would think that the result is likely to be indecisive, but if we got a record reply that would obviously tell us something.'

One person likely to reply is Bill Gredley, the successful owner and breeder who touted a strike of race meetings last year which ultimately came to nothing.

Although he has met with great success through the exploits of User Friendly, the filly he bred, part-owns, and will see in action at Ascot on Saturday, he has often complained of poor prize-money, lack of respect from racecourse officials and skimping on handouts of owners' badges.

Gredley raised the boycott issue again yesterday at a meeting of the ROA council, the 'toothless' body to which he has just been elected.

The response was to send out the survey, to which neither Locke nor Gredley will know the answers until September, by which time the results of a poll of the best and worst racecourses will have been published.

Earlier polls within the ROA have thrown up surprises, not least that Ascot comes well down the list and Uttoxeter, the Midlands jumps course, at the top.

The Maktoum family paid dollars 2.77m ( pounds 1.9m) for nine yearlings on the opening day of the Keeneland Sales in Kentucky despite reports that they would not be buying. Maktoum Al Maktoum's Gainsborough Farm, which did not buy at last year's sale, purchased five yearlings for dollars 1.54m ( pounds 1.06m) while Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud bought four for dollars 1.225m ( pounds 845,000).