The 248th Gimcrack Dinner

On Tuesday 11 December, the 248th Gimcrack Dinner was staged at York Racecourse.

According to tradition, the event is addressed by the owner of the horse which wins the £225,000 Gimcrack Stakes, the richest Group Two contest for two year-olds colts only in Britain, sponsored by Al Basti Equiworld- Dubai, at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival in August.

In 2018, the Toast to British Racing was made at the conclusion of a speech by Abdulla Ahmad Al Shaikh the son of the winning owner in the race, Ahmad Abdulla Al Shaikh.

His colt, Emaraaty Ana, won this year’s Al Basti Equiworld Gimcrack Stakes.

Trained in Hambleton, North Yorkshire by Kevin Ryan, it was a fourth win in the race for a trainer who so becames the most successful in the modern era, in this contest.

The winning jockey, Llanfranco (Frankie) Dettori, enjoyed a third success in the race (coming after Country Reel in 2002 as well as Abou Zouz in 1996), driving his partner out in the final furlong to head Legends of War at odds of 5/1.

The response to the Toast was given by Sir Hugh Robertson, Chair of the Shadow Racing Authority.
The text of both main Toasts, is set out below:


My Lord President, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen;

I feel proud and privileged to be here today with my father, Mr. Ahmad Abdulla AI Shaikh, delivering this speech on his behalf, and taking part of an event with such a distinguished history.

Kevin Ryan called my father on April 30, 2018 after Emaraaty Ana won his first race in Windsor, and told him that our sights are set for Gimcrack at York. My father was delighted, as four years ago, we finished in third in the Gimcrack, with a horse called Ahlan Emarati, who was beaten just half-a-length by two future Group 1 winners which are Muhaarar and Jungle Cat.  Originally, my father wasn't even planning on going to watch Emaraarty Ana run in the Gimcrack as he was supposed to be in Dubai on business. However, my mother told him, "You have a runner at York, don't you?  I remember you came third in this race last time, you should go to York, I have a good feeling about this." I think the moral of the story is, "Always listen to your wife, I say." Is that not an old Yorkshire saying?

With that said, and on behalf of our entire family, I would like to sincerely thank Kevin for having a keen foresight, and creating the opportunity for us to be here today. I would also like to thank everyone that is directly and indirectly involved in my father attaining his first Gimcrack winner.

In addition, I would like to thank York Racecourse for the fantastic way they look after owners and the excellent prize money that is on offer when you race at the track.  It's always a pleasure to have our runners here and their efforts are rewarded with very competitive racing and big crowds.

If I could perhaps offer a few insights from the perspective of my fathe r, a horse owner from Dubai who greatly enjoys the sport and who has raced horses in the United Kingdom since 2005 and currently has horses in-training here, Ireland and Dubai.

For owners, prize money will always be a topic for debate and I am well aware that it has been raised at this dinner before.  For an owner, finding the best opportunity for your horse is the priority, but it does strike me as strange when more money is on offer for some of the handicap races than the Group races, when more ability is required by the horse to win a Group.

I understand that it is not so straightforward and the funding of racing in Britain is tied up with the betting on the sport, but it is strange not to reward superior ability and it is hard to think of another sport that acts in this way.

There is no doubt that the history and heritage of British racing is one of its great strengths.  Tonight's dinner and the fact the great horses and traditions from the sport's past are still remembered and celebrated today is testament to that.  The sport's unrivalled heritage is one of the reasons why owners are drawn to British racing. Another reason is the regulation of racing in this country.  As an owner, you feel you are safe here and that your interests are protected. We believe the officials and raceday stewards provide a good balance and do a superb job and I'm sure that this level of professionalism will remain in the future.

We believe the British Horseracing Authority are fundamentally fair and the integrity of the sport here is a strength in the eyes of international owners.

We also find the coverage of the sport by the media in the UK great.  They are objective while also being supportive.  Across both newspapers and television, they do an excellent job and as a result, racing here is well promoted and you see the effects of that in the enthusiasm and knowledge shown by the general public who go racing and clearly enjoy their racing.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in Yorkshire.

If there is one area where we believe there is room for improvement by the media in general/ it is in relation to the recognition given to owners and the role they play. For the most part, the winners of races are described and reported in terms of the jockey and trainer. Yet, for my father and I, as owners, we feel like: “We selected the horse, we bought the horse1 we chose the trainer, and the horse runs in our colours.” So it would be nice to give the owners a bit more credit.

What appears to have been eroded over time is an appreciation for the role of the owner.  You have a situation now on any given meeting when people are tuning in to watch the best races of the day and a horse wins an important race.

The jockey will be celebrated and the trainer will be celebrated but in most of the occasions, the owner is not mentioned at all.

All that is being asked is that the role and identity of the owner is referenced with the same amount of importance in the aftermath of a victory as the trainer and jockey. And I do not think you need me to tell you that new owners are the lifeblood of the sport and their enjoyment of the experience is fundamental to the future success of British racing.

Whenever he is in the UK, my father will go racing whenever he can, whether it is for a Class 5 or for a group race. My father enjoys going racing. Many racecourses are trying hard to look after owners, some are better than others but you can tell they are making an effort.

On that note, I would like to once again extend my father's deepest appreciation for this opportunity, and to Emaraaty Ana, winner of the AI Basti Equiworld Gimcrack Stakes, and his new owner, we wish you the best of luck in the next season!


My Lord President, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I had hoped to be able to stand before you tonight with good news - namely that plans to replace The Levy Board with the new Racing Authority were on track and approaching the final furlong - but more of that later!

However, indisputably, my invitation to talk to you tonight derives from my job as Chair of the, currently Shadow, Racing Authority. It is a huge pleasure, and an honour, to be involved in racing in this way.

I have always followed the sport - although my only practical experience was commanding a squadron of horses during my time in The Household Cavalry! I, of course, dealt extensively with the other side of the sport during my time as Minister for London 2012 and now at the British Olympic Association, where equestrianism is always one of our leading medal hopes - and will be again as we move towards the Tokyo Olympics in eighteen months time.

It has always struck me that racing is one of the UK’s great sporting success stories.

-    more people attend race meetings in this country than any other sport bar football and we stage many of the world’s most iconic races - and race meetings. The customer experience on many of our courses is second to none, not least here at York.

-    betting on racing has continued to grow, year on year for the past three years and by 2.5% in the twelve months to march 2018, against a backdrop of decline internationally.

-    numbers of horses in training, and returns to owners, continue to grow - with record prize money anticipated this year of £160 million.

Nobody doubts that the sport faces real challenges, and many of those were eloquently laid out by Nick Rust in his ‘State of the Nation’ address earlier this summer, but our current challenges should be seen against the backdrop of much positivity.

And so to my part!

I was recruited in January of this year to be the first independent Chair of the new Racing Authority. I had adjudicated on The Levy once as a Minister so this is a good moment to record my thanks to Paul Lee, Alan Delmonte and the team at HBLB. They played the hand that they have been given with great skill and fairness - and deserve our gratitude.

The Shadow Racing Authority, comprising two members from each of three main stakeholders, comprising the BHA, RCA and Horsemen, has been at work since early this year, in Shadow form, and has:

-    met on five occasions.

-    appointed a second independent member, Wilf Walsh, to Chair the newly constituted Betting Liaison Group.

-    started to set up the legal and administrative infrastructure necessary to bring a new body to life and, with Nick Rust in the room, I should publicly record my thanks to the executive at the BHA for all their work in this regard.

Progress has been made:

-    The old levy system has been replaced with a new point of consumption collection basis.

-    Consequentially, racing is looking at a budget of £93m for next year, up from £85m this year.

-    The conflictory relationship between racing and betting, built into the DNA of the old system, has been removed.

-    As a result, the betting Liaison Group, which brings together betting and racing to work on commercial initiatives to benefit both parties, has already made good progress on data collection, the recruitment of an analyst, a resultant data analysis group and, finally, a data innovation group.

In short, much has already been achieved.

However, on Friday, a joint parliamentary committee, following an evidence session from DCMS two weeks previously, decided that a Legislative Reform Order, which was the government’s preferred method for bringing about the necessary final changes, was not a suitable vehicle for reform of this type. It was an argument about procedure, arcane to everyone outside the Westminster bubble, not about the substance of the policy. 

The way forward is also a matter for Racing generically, and emphatically not just me, but the following observations might help shape the next moves:

Firstly, and fairly obviously, Racing needs a body to distribute the money collected under the new system efficiently and effectively. There is no other body that can do this apart from HBLB - so its life should be extended.

Secondly, government appears to be offering primary legislation, either via a government bill or a Private Members Bill, to conclude this process. I would be cautious! Both types of legislation are amendable and anyone who heard the recent Westminster Hall debate on Racing coalescing around animal welfare issues would understand the dangers.

Finally, I think that racing has more pressing issues over which it needs government support. We want to see the process concluded to capture income from overseas racing, need to find a solution to the issue of money lost from the FOBT reforms and, of course, have a number of, as yet undefined, issues resulting from Brexit (whichever way you voted!). It may be time to see what further progress can be made without legislation - and move onto more pressing issues.

I thought that I might finish with two more general observations, from the perspective of a former government minister, closely involved in sport more generally and now in racing more particularly.

During London 2012, we devoted a great deal of time to the performance of the home team - in this case Team GB. Lord Coe said to me that Olympic success relies on four key ingredients - athletes, coaches, structure and money. It is not an exact analogy but there are elements that apply here.

Racing has the first two in abundance. We are lucky to have great horses, talented jockeys and excellent stable staff, as we see each year at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, and a roster of the world’s greatest trainers to coach them.

That leaves the money and the structure!

On money, every sport wants more - and racing is no exception. However, most crises in sport both here and internationally, over the decade and a half that I have been involved, occur when the pursuit of money is prioritised over the moral values of the sport.

I fully understand the concern over the loss of income from the recent decision on FOBTs but this needs to be balanced by an understanding about the moral arguments over their use. Racing also needs to recognise, whether it likes it or not, that the political environment around gambling has changed.

Secondly, on structure, by which I really mean governance. Racing has a multiplicity of bodies and interest groups that are not always in perfect alignment. As it moves forward, racing needs to:

-    ensure that its key stakeholders (the BHA, RCA and Horsemen) have agreed roles and responsibilities - and do not mission creep.

-    Agree a long term strategy for the development of the sport. There seems to be widespread agreement around the key priorities of welfare (equine and human), staffing and the commercial development of the sport. However, when the Shadow RA sat down, a month ago, to consider the 2019 Budget, there was no agreed plan against which to benchmark spending.

-    mix industry knowledge with outside expertise on its boards, ideally in a diverse and transparent way.

-    recognise that regulation must be independent and never mixed with commerce.

-    speak with one voice to its external stakeholders, particularly government. An industry that gives mixed messages is quickly disregarded by busy Ministers and officials who will spend their time on other areas where the key voices can agree. It is vital to work together!                                                              

Lord President,

I would like to finish by:

-    Thanking you, and the Gimcrack, for the honour of the invitation to speak to you tonight.

-    Assuring you of my determination to continue to work towards the best solution for racing’s future funding - and encouraging all of you to find the necessary compromises to work together for Racing’s future.

-    Concluding my reply, on behalf of the sport, by asking you all to raise your glasses to the future success and prosperity of British Racing.