When Willie Mullins speaks, we should all listen.
Ireland’s top trainer has spoken out about prize money and the very future of National Hunt racing. When I express my own concerns about the future of horse racing, writes Vernon Grant, it means little. I am whistling in the wind. But when Willie Mullins feels it necessary to say what he has, then we should all be alarmed.
Mullins says: “The gaming end of the game is getting bigger, it seems to be getting huge and racing isn’t.
“When you consider the biggest prize in jump racing, apart from the Grand National, is probably about what you’d have to pay for a nice young jump horse at the moment… to me, jump racing has to make a jump up to much better prize money for what it generates for racing.
“Maybe prize money at Cheltenham for the Grade One races could be, I’d say, at least doubled, if not more, to give what we see in Flat racing, meaningful prizes. What people race National Hunt horses for, it’s not fair and it’s not on, for what they do for the sport. All people seem to do is keep edging it up a little bit every year. We’re going very slowly.”
Mullins pointed at the number of instances of trainers giving up, unable to make a living through the sport. The problem is worse in the UK than in Ireland, but Mullins says that even a successful yard such as his operates to “a very small percentage profit.”
“I’m probably not the person to say all this but someone has to say it and go look at the figures yourself. I think the other countries have got their act together. The ones that haven’t have fallen by the wayside. Have a look at racing in Italy, Germany, Belgium; all those countries that didn’t get the thing right, they’re just disappearing down the tubes.
“Someone should break out and say, right, we’ve really got to reinvigorate the sport before it goes down.”
Willie Mullins is not just someone. If he fears for the future of the sport, those running it need to stop sleepwalking and do something about prize money. So much money is being made by the big bookmakers. How much of it is going back into the sport? Not nearly enough.