Racing: 'We will have little choice but to make an exit'

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The Independent Online
The richest man in British racing has had enough of the paucity of funds his sport is receiving. If owners, big and small, do not see a larger return for their investment soon, then Sheikh Mohammed and his family will be off to greener pastures. Chris Corrigan reports

Sheikh Mohammed, racing's most powerful owner, last night broke a decade's silence to warn of dire consequences unless progress is made in reducing the gulf between the outlay and return on his substantial investment.

The text of his speech was read to the Gimcrack Dinner in York - Sheikh Marwan, another member of Dubai's ruling elite, is the owner of Carrowkeel, winner of the 1997 Gimcrack Stakes.

"For 10 years I have kept my own counsel and withstood all temptations to enter the debate surrounding racing's financial plight but the time for silence has passed," he said.

"We cannot justify continuing at current levels of investment for much longer and are actively studying whether other parts of the world might provide better opportunities for us.

"All I ask is that the astounding gulf between outlay and return is narrowed... not for my benefit but for everybody's benefit in all corners of the industry.''

The grim tone of the text continued: "My hope and that of other owners and breeders on smaller scales is that after we have emptied our pockets, we are at least allowed to keep the lining. At present the process of owning horses at any level is like driving on a flat tyre, all we seek is the luxury of a slow puncture.''

He went on to warn: "Unless we see positive signs of progress and the possibility of change, we will massively reduce our racing and breeding presence in Britain and resign ourselves to racing in countries which bring us less pleasure but make more economic sense."

Sheikh Mohammed appeared to accept that his family's dominance of British racing has had its detractors.

''There are probably some people who for reasons of their own, might not miss us, however, I am not in the business of winning popularity contests.

''But we can no longer escape the stark fact that our racing operation in Britain is a luxury that we can no longer sustain - and just as that applies to us, so logically, it must also apply to the major international players and all too many home-based owner/breeders as well.

''It isn't that the figures don't add up... it is that they do not even begin to add up... and we can no longer go on as we have before.

''Nor do we intend to unless things start to improve. Believe me, we have other responsibilities and obligations.''

The speech, displaying considerable bitterness, claimed that a recent league table showed the percentage of training fees recoverable through prize money ranked Britain 35th out of 40, behind countries such as Poland, Mauritius and Greece.

The text continued: ''And who, you may ask is this Sheikh Mohammed... he is, like everyone else in this room tonight, a man who loves his racing and values it deeply.''

But in conclusion the speech asked the guests to be in no doubt about the future. ''If we see no light at the end of the tunnel then we will be left with little choice but to make an exit. It isn't that we want to leave, but we fear we may have to go.

''It would be good to think that in five years time we might have another winner of the Gimcrack and that I could stand once more before you and deliver happier tidings.

''But to have a winner of the Gimcrack in the year 2002 we would need to have a runner... as of tonight that can no longer be taken for granted."

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