Former Cheltenham chief Gillespie calls for better prize-money distribution

The former managing director of Cheltenham has called for prize-money to be better distributed in Britain to help incentivise owners.

Edward Gillespie, who ran the racecourse for 32 years, emphasised the importance of offering owners a return following a Racing Post special report exploring seven ways to improve British prize-money.

"I've always felt the distribution is wrong," said Gillespie. "There's too much paid to the winner and not enough to the second or third, which is why you have big owners with battalions of runners and a massive gap to the owners with horses finishing below the places.

"There are those who think prize-money is almost irrelevant because so few people win it, so you can sell ownership on the back of the experience, with people staying in so long as they have a good time.

"However, the reality is that in order to keep people interested, you need some money going back into their account, rather than them being bled. Prize-money is absolutely fundamental. It's what drives the sport and it's got to be in keeping with owners' expenditure."

One way for tracks to generate more money would be to reverse the trend for falling attendances, which have been a concern on the Flat this year, including at York's three-day Dante meeting this month.

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association (RCA), addressed the issue on the Nick Luck Daily podcast on Wednesday, and outlined inflation as a major contributing factor.

The UK inflation rate has risen to nine per cent, the highest figure for 40 years, with rising fuel, food and energy costs putting a strain on household budgets and the level of people's discretionary spend.

"Looking at the figures, particularly general admission, crowds are lower than we would expect, although advanced sales at York were very good," said Armstrong. "What it seems to be driven by is the general economic pressure that everyone finds themselves under.

"We've heard that inflation is at nine per cent. The impact of that on discretionary spend is really being felt. We probably noticed that trend picking up after Aintree and that is continuing. Sales at big events are still very strong but the next tier down are struggling."

Gillespie argues a drop in attendances is often cyclical, and he adds: "As long as people are at home and having a bet, they'll come back when they're ready. What we don't want to find is that the sport has lost them and they've opted to spend their money on other things."