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RACING : Turf copies blueprint for success

Football showed the way almost 20 years ago, cricket followed in the mid-1980s, and yesterday racing too unveiled a sponsorship deal which will make logos on the front of jockeys' silks a familiar sight on British tracks. For the next three years, almost every runner trained in Lambourn will carry a prominent advertisement for Danka, a company providing photocopier and fax services, who will pay an estimated £375,000 for the privilege. The deeply conservative racing industry has, it seems, entered the 20th century just in time.

Sponsorship of players' outfits is such an accepted fact of modern sport that the 18-year gap between its introduction in football and eventual arrival in racing could be seen as yet another reason to ridicule the Turf. In fact, the surprise is that it has happened so swiftly, and received such a widespread welcome from trainers and owners. The Jockey Club, remember, did not grant training licences to women until the 1960s, and then only capitulated to sanity when a humiliating defeat in the courts was imminent.

Until recently, all progress in the sport was generally permitted in the same, grudging manner. Since the conception and formation of the British Horseracing Board, however, the Turf's structure and outlook have moved further in three years than they had in the previous 30. The BHB is prepared to try new ideas, and refine them where necessary. The deal between Danka and the Lambourn Trainers Association, for example, became possible only when permission was granted for silk-front logos. Previously, advertising had been restricted to sites on jockeys' collars and shoulders, which were so small that only a rider in an adjacent stall had any real chance to read them.

Prominent logos on the front of silks will jar aesthetically with many racegoers. In practical terms, however, their introduction could not be resisted a moment longer. The agreement made in March 1993 between racing and the Inland Revenue, which exempted bloodstock purchases and training costs from VAT, required owners' to seek sponsorship income in return. Most were only too happy to pocket the tax cut, but their efforts to find sponsors had been patchy. Now, those with horses stabled in Lambourn need have no worries about a visit from the taxman, and will also pick up £5 from Danka each time their horse runs.

That is small change, perhaps, for anyone with enough money to own a horse in training, but just as Manchester United command higher payments from sponsors than Doncaster Rovers, successful runners will earn more for their owners. Five hundred pounds will be paid for a televised winner, or £1,000 if the race concerned is worth £10,000 or more. The lad or lass responsible for a televised winner will receive £100, with £10 being donated to a racing charity. The Lambourn stable responsible for the most "Danka" winners each season will receive a further £1,000.

A few Lambourn-based horses, including Large Action, the Champion Hurdle favourite, have already found sponsors and will not be affected by the deal announced yesterday. Other owners may also pursue their own deals - a Derby favourite, for example, might well persuade someone to pay more than a fiver for silk-space - but the company still expects the agreement to cost £100,000 each year, on top of £75,000 set-up costs. We must never forget, however, that Danka will anticipate a return worth several times that sum in publicity, which will be particularly valuable for a firm which is one of the market leaders in the supply of copiers and faxes, even though practically no-one has heard of it.

That will surely not be the case when the sponsorship deal ends in 1998. They may even hit the jackpot in just a week's time, when Alderbrook will carry their logo in the Champion Hurdle. The association between Danka and Lambourn will be to the benefit of all concerned, and a demonstration to the rest of the industry of the potential returns from sponsorship. No wonder everyone at yesterday's press conference was looking so smug.