Racing: Owners seek a quiet revolution: A sounding of the people who pay the bills detects apathy instead of an urge to force improvement through boycotts

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The Independent Online
IT IS not easy to summon sympathy for the complaints of those privileged enough to be racehorse owners, and the results of a survey to be published today suggest that it is a minority, albeit a voluble one that are doing the complaining.

Some might claim that the 73 per cent of respondents who said they would support some sort of boycott of the sport was the significant statistic to emerge from the survey which was sent to 3,900 members of the Racehorse Owners Association. The fact that only 13.8 per cent bothered to return the questionnaire seems far more revealing.

'I was a bit surprised by the numbers who took part,' John Biggs, director general of the ROA, said yesterday. 'I think 13.8 per cent is quite good for a survey, but since we were asking about what concerned owners most, it was disappointing.'

So the prospect of a picket of cashmere-coated owners shouting scab at their less militant brethren at the Ascot gates has receded.

'We will not be seeking a mandate from members for a boycott,' Biggs said. 'There are other avenues to pursue.

'The object of the survey was for information gathering to see what are owners' major concerns and to what extent they will take action in support of change.'

The range of possibilities for militant action extended from boycotting a single meeting to a full month's programme. Most favoured a boycott of sporadic full days at all meetings but there was some support for a boycott of bloodstock sales for a year.

Unsurprisingly, the respondents listed prize-money, particularly in lower-tier races, as the top priority. Racecourse facilities, including the attitude of gate staff, unsatisfactory parking, inadequate viewing areas, catering and admission charges, were also criticised.

'We are in constant contact with the racecourses over facilities. Some are very good already and others are beginning to turn things round,' Biggs said. 'Prize-money is a major worry but that is not in our gift. But one of the ways we can play a part is with entry fees and the British Horseracing Board is examining ways of reducing them.

'There were one or two complaints that I was not expecting, particularly the high level of remuneration earned by jockeys, especially the top ones.'

But not all the respondents were thinking of themselves. Among the 539 replies, 11 placed the welfare of horses or stable-staff as their top priority.

The BHB has revised next year's programme to increase the number of evenings with two fixtures to 54. It follows a review of data gathered on betting patterns which shows that Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the most popular evenings with shop punters.