Beleaguered horse racing chiefs in Scotland have been handed a much-needed boost after the Scottish government announced the details of a £2 million rescue package.
Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed £55 million in emergency funding for sports north of the border, with football pocketing a large chunk of the kitty at £20 million and rugby union a further £10 million.
But the nightmare conditions facing tracks like Ayr, Musselburgh and Kelso, where small crowds of up to 300 people are only allowed in level one areas, have seen gate revenue all but dry up – casting a shadow over the very future of the racecourses.
And so the governmental rescue package is a welcome boost that will stave off disaster, for now at least, until the pandemic is wrestled under control.
The funding will take the form of both grants and loans, and has been described by Delly Innes, Scottish Racing manager, as ‘absolutely vital’.
“As Scottish racecourses continue to race behind closed doors, this financial support is not only very welcome, but absolutely vital for everyone in our sport,” Innes said.
“We’re delighted the Scottish government has recognised the sport’s importance and the potentially devastating financial implications the pandemic has had on the industry.
“We’ll continue to work closely with them [government ministers] to return crowds to tracks as soon as possible.”
According to the calculations of Scottish Racing, the five racecourses in the country – the three named above, plus Hamilton Park and Perth – will have collectively lost more than £12 million should the tracks remain without crowds until the spring, and that represents more than half of their annual revenue.
Falling in Line
Better late than never, as the old saying goes, and Scottish racing officials will be breathing a sigh of relief after their governmental ministers finally came through with a concrete financial plan.
The announcement came almost a month after the English government revealed their own rescue package for the worst-hit sports, with horse racing being allocated £40 million by Boris Johnson and his advisors, although the scheme has drawn criticism as the funding is made up of loans rather than direct grants.
However Nick Rust, the BHA chief, believes it’s in the best interests of racecourses to access any financial help that is offered their way.
“This will help us to get through the winter, he said to the Racing Post.
“We’ve got £40m available in loans. It will allow us to continue and plug some of the holes where our funding gaps exist.
“This money will be used to help prop up racecourses and prize-money that helps employ so many people in the sport.
“We would have loved it to be grants but loans, assuming the terms are favourable with a long repayment period, are very helpful to get us through this period.”
Meanwhile in Wales, there hasn’t been any government announcements regarding the return of crowds to live racing, although racecourses there can apply for the central government’s loan scheme. In Ireland, racing has been handed a 14% increase in government funding, which in real terms is a boost to €1.8 billion.