Johnston says he's on the money over racing's search for change
Flat racing's ills stem from a lack of quality prize funding, the rot of which is gradually seeping through the sport, says will hayler
Published 17/01/2010 | 05:00
Mark Johnston's motto is, famously in racing, Always Trying. The man who sent out more winners than any other trainer in 2009 is a Scot by birth, but his no-nonsense approach is more befitting his Yorkshire base and he is characteristically forthright when it comes to those behind Racing For Change, the project the British Horseracing Authority hope will lead the sport out of the wilderness.
"The Racing For Change board wouldn't know a horse if it kicked them," Johnstone says. "It's all the same old faces. How are they going to effect change?"
As far as Johnston is concerned, racing's problems stem from a lack of prize money, the rot from which is gradually seeping down through the sport.
"There's this huge thing at the moment about how wonderful jumps racing is and how bad Flat racing is," he says. "It's only six or seven years since jumps racing was in seriously dire straits because of lack of prize money. It staggers me that nobody looks at the obvious now, which is that prize money over jumps is much better now, much better than Flat racing.
"That shows you what a bit of prize money can do. On the Flat we're boring the customer, we're boring the owner, we're boring everybody with endless dross racing for no money.
"RFC have two things that they should be looking at. One is the promotion of racing as a sport and not as a betting medium. That's not to say that we're not mutually dependent, we are. But the people employed by the BHA should concentrate upon running racing as a sport and selling it as a sport to people who will, in turn, bet on it. Football sells football as a sport, not as a betting medium, but people will still bet on it.
"Second, and equally as importantly, they should be concentrating upon the financial structure. What we've got to do is set a price for our product. Owners lose 76 per cent of their turnover every year. Government and bookmakers make massive profits out of the sport, hundreds of millions of pounds, but owners make a massive loss.
"I think it's verging on immoral to take the 'it's a hobby' attitude and that someone else will pay. That's just not right. I look at one of the ideas from Racing For Change -- free membership club for younger adults, offering discounted admission and shares in racehorses. That just shows how detached from reality these people are. The whole idea that people should get shares in racehorses shows that people have no idea how much it costs to run a bloody racehorse.
"I've got 135 staff here. For every racehorse, before you even start looking at the costs of feeding it, transporting it, putting a jockey on its back, paying for a gallop or anything, you've got to pay half a person's wages to look after it. This is not a cheap sport."
Johnston's relationship with racing's authorities has never been easy, even when he served as president of the National Trainers Federation before leaving "sickened by it all". But he does not blame those at the sport's grassroots.
"You look at the BHA and there are some fantastic brains for racing and they get bypassed time and again," he says. "The best two departments at the BHA are the handicappers, who know so much about racing and the structure of racing, and the veterinary department who know about horses.
"To my mind, those two departments should run the show. But," he continues, "when was the last time someone from one of those departments rose up through the ranks to become senior steward or chief executive?
"I'm doing all right and I'll continue to do well. But what I'm saying is for the industry as a whole. I accept that maybe there are too many trainers; maybe there are too many racecourses; maybe some need to go at the bottom. But there are plenty in the middle tier who are doing a very good job, who are putting on the show, day in and day out, and who are losing money. And that can't go on. Racing can't go on like this."