Racing: Owners veto logo income

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THE OWNERS of a third of Britain's racehorses are believed to have refused to take part in a new sponsorship scheme, which is due to start in little more than two months' time. In a survey conducted by the British Horseracing Board, which required owners to state their opposition to advertising logos being carried on their jockeys' boots and breeches, almost 1,500 are thought to have registered their disapproval, including some of the most famous names on the turf.

The exact figures will not be published until early next week, but the results of the survey seem sure to cause considerable embarrassment to the BHB. In his speech to the Gimcrack dinner just a few days ago, Peter Savill, the BHB chairman, said that racing should be "innovative and open to new ideas" in its search for extra revenue. Now, though, it appears that many owners are willing to deny the sport an important new source of finance.

The possibility that jockeys might raise money by selling advertising space on their breeches and boots was first raised several years ago. Only a tiny fraction of riders are in the millionaires club with the likes of Frankie Dettori and Pat Eddery, and it was estimated that carrying logos on those items of clothing which actually belong to them could be worth up to pounds 1m each year.

The move was put on hold, though, to allow racehorse owners to launch a similar scheme with adverts carried on their silks. This not only raised money for owners directly, but also allowed them to profit from valuable VAT concessions on the purchase of bloodstock and their training fees.

Now that the riders are demanding sponsorship rights of their own, however, the owners are demanding a veto which, although it will not stop the idea in its tracks, will clearly make it much more difficult to sell, and much less valuable to a major sponsor. Sheikh Mohammed, who himself called for greater funding for racing in a significant Gimcrack speech 12 months ago, is among those owners to have registered dissatisfaction.

The owners' concerns include clashes of interest between the logos on silks and breeches, even though horses sponsored by one company regularly run in and win races bearing the name of a direct competitor without any fuss. Others have complained that the jockeys' sponsor might be distasteful (a condom manufacturer was one particularly ludicrous example). This, though, is simply a slur against the common sense of Michael Caulfield, the secretary of the Jockeys' Association, who is trying to secure a sponsorship deal to cover all riders.

An unspoken objection is also, perhaps, the most important. A significant number of owners seem to believe that they are buying not only a jockeys' services, but the person as well. The idea that riders could make money without their say-so is therefore a troublesome one.

Regardless of the complaints, though, the sponsorship scheme is expected to launch as planned on 1 February next year with two-thirds of riders carrying logos on breeches and boots. To maximise revenue in the long- term, though, the objections of the remaining owners will need to be overridden. Many senior jockeys, including Richard Dunwoody and Tony McCoy, regard 100 per cent coverage for their sponsorship as vital, and they and Caulfield will be ready for a fight over the coming weeks and months.

Ultimately, it is hard to see how the reluctant owners can continue to resist, since the sites in question belong not to them but to the people they employ, usually on a freelance basis. And while even Peter Savill, himself a leading owner, has seemed lukewarm about the idea, the BHB as a whole has a duty to help secure extra money for racing wherever it can.

One point at least seems clear. If a mixture of flimsy excuses and near- feudal attitudes frustrates a valuable new source of funds for jockeys, the Government ministers who regularly hear Savill pleading for increased support will be distinctly unimpressed.