Racing: Savill wants the BHB to run the Tote

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The Independent Online
A FUNNY thing happened at yesterday's Racing Forum, in that, by the standards of recent years, nothing happened. This must have been a relief to some of the sport's PR professionals, who have spent the days and weeks after previous forums trying to deal with the fallout from resignations, recriminations and good old-fashioned infighting. But there was little good news for them to spin either, since even Peter Savill, the BHB chairman, was able to offer no firm evidence that his Financial Plan for Racing is any closer to realisation.

Yesterday's meeting of the industry's factions marked the Plan's first birthday, and while Savill still claims it to be the driving force of BHB policy, his speech to the Forum implied he thinks he may have come up with an even better idea. The Tote, he said, should not be privatised, a prospect which has seemed more likely in recent months. Instead, it should be handed over to racing, in the shape of the BHB, irrespective of any financial considerations. Letters to this effect, he said, had been posted to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary.

Savill's argument was that "at a time when the Tote is making around pounds 20m profit per year before it's contribution to racing, and when the BHB has made such a strong case for an additional annual investment of pounds 105m, it would be insensitive of Government to contemplate annexing the Tote and selling it to commercial interests." Racing, he said, "has a very obvious proprietary right to the Tote."

It is a bold and interesting argument. The obvious problem, as it is with the Financial Plan, is whether the Government will forgo millions of pounds which could be spent on schools and hospitals, in order to help some of Britain's wealthiest individuals, many of whom do not pay tax. It must be odds-against.

Whatever the ultimate destiny of the Tote - and privatisation could only be bad for racing - Savill has other ideas too for racing's finances. He called yesterday for an end to the Levy system of funding from betting turnover, in favour of a "Signal System", based on the sale of television coverage. The Levy, he said "is a system which, quite unlike any commercial transaction, allows the buyer, the betting industry, to dictate the price to the seller, the racing industry."

The Financial Plan, meanwhile, has not been forgotten. Savill's calculation 12 months ago was that racing needed an additional pounds 105m each year, pounds 25m of which would come from "self-help" measures, with the remaining pounds 80m from an increased share of betting turnover. As regards the latter, of course, the begging bowls are still upturned but empty, although Savill said yesterday that racing had generated pounds 10.5m of its pounds 25m target. And that is without the scheme for sponsorship of jockeys' breeches which Savill, perversely and disgracefully, seems keen to scupper.

Serious progress on any of Savill's plans remains a distant prospect. He recently met William Hague to discuss racing's needs, which some might say is an example of the BHB chairman networking on the sport's behalf in the corridors of power. Then again, it could also be seen as the action of a truly desperate man.

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