Racing industry stays positive

KEY figures in Newmarket's horseracing industry last night insisted the sport would recover from the storm of potentially damaging publicity threatening to engulf it.

KEY figures in Newmarket's horseracing industry last night insisted the sport would recover from the storm of potentially damaging publicity threatening to engulf it.

But one official admitted yesterday it was "sad" the problems had come at a time when the industry in Newmarket was set for a "boom period".

The comments came on the day Suffolk-based champion jockey Keiren Fallon was banned for 21 days for his riding of Ballinger Ridge at Lingfield last week, when he eased off his mount when leading by several lengths to be pipped at the post.

The Jockey Club is also investigating unusual betting patterns reported before the race.

These latest developments follow the demise of satellite racing channel Attheraces, which is due to go off air at the end of this month - ending a lucrative deal for racecourses.

And the stud rights row between Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and racing magnate John Magnier have also cast long shadows over the sport.

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But key figures in Newmarket, racing's headquarters, remained positive yesterday.

Peter Amos, managing director of Jockey Club Estates, which manages the thousands of acres of gallops in and around Newmarket owned by the Jockey Club, said: "Racing has a habit of getting in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons, and I don't know the exact details of what happened with Keiren Fallon, but the publicity is very bad for racing as a whole.

"It generally doesn't imbue confidence. All I know is that I see Keiren Fallon riding here and he's a thoroughly professional horseman."

However, he said that while not implying that there was any wrongdoing on Fallon's part, racing had long been a magnet for unscrupulous characters where betting was concerned, but added: "It has happened before and it will happen again, the sad thing is that Newmarket currently has all the ingredients for a boom period.

"There have never been so many horses in training, demand is such that there are practically no yards for rent or for sale and there is a general feeling of optimism.

"I am very confident racing will come through this as it has done in similar situations in the past, it's just sad for all of us footsoldiers, if you like - stable lads, heath staff, trainers and jockeys - who work so hard for the sport, that this publicity had to come at a time when everything appears to be going so well."

Sir Mark Prescott, Newmarket's longest serving and one of the country's most respected trainers, said: "I don't think the row between Magnier and Ferguson will have any more effect on racing than it would have had on the property business if they had been arguing about a building.

"But when you get a run of bad publicity like this it's a shame and it will have a short term effect, particularly on the punters and racing's share of the betting market."

He added: "When you have been in the game as long as I have you become cynical. My father always used to say, and I live by the same rule, that if you wake up on a Sunday and you're not in the papers then you've had a good week."

Newmarket Racecourses spokesman Alistair Haggis said that although the ten-year deal for broadcast rights for racing with Attheraces has come to a premature end, he was optimistic that racing coverage would not suffer and said the major courses were already negotiating for new broadcast rights which would still see major races such as the Grand National televised.

He said: "Racecourses will see a loss of income following the end of the Attheraces deal, which means they will have to work harder to promote the sport and bring people racing.

"But I am confident they can do that and I am aware that negotiations are under way between broadcasters and the Racecourse Holdings Trust, which owns most of the major courses including Newmarket and Cheltenham.

"After the Panorama investigation into corruption in racing, there was no discernible effect on attendance at the races, in fact the figures last year were very, very good.

"I am not being complacent but I don't think these latest developments will lead to a huge loss of confidence in racing and most people who have a bet know there are a lot of factors which influence the way a horse runs."

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