Could the Appointment of Lucy Frazer as Culture Secretary Save British Horse Racing?

Lucy FrazerLike a house-proud aunt with OCD, Rishi Sunak has once again shuffled around the ornaments in his Cabinet.

The Prime Minister is trying to surround himself with MPs he can trust at the start of, what in theory could be, an election year.

Sunak sacked Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi after his, ahem, tax irregularities came to light, with Greg Hands taking over the role.

The PM has chopped up the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy into three new departments, while slimming down the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Within that, the culture secretary Michelle Donelan has been moved into a new role heading science and innovation, with gambling minister Paul Scully also moved on to pastures new.

That duo had been in their former roles for just a few months, so their input into the forever-delayed gambling White Paper will ultimately prove minimal at best.

That has sent a shiver down the spine of British horse racing, for whom Scully was an outspoken advocate in his short time as gambling chief. The sport relies heavily on the revenue generated by the betting levy, which could he hit hard if new regulations delivered as part of the reform invoke stricter rules on punters.

However, maybe it’s not all doom and gloom. The new culture secretary has perhaps got better racing ‘credentials’ than any other MP….

Who Is Lucy Frazer MP?

Lucy Frazer has been the serving MP for the South East Cambridgeshire constituency since 2015. She’s had many different roles in the Cabinet, and nobody can describe her as not being versatile: Frazer has overseen ministerial roles in housing, planning, transport, prisons and probation, while acting as Solicitor General too.

She takes on the culture – and, therefore, gambling – brief with an intriguing background, given that her Cambridgeshire patch includes both Newmarket Racecourse and the National Stud. Unsurprisingly, Frazer is known to be a keen fan of horse racing.

Actions speak louder than words, and back in 2022 she opposed a planned solar farm in the constituency that would have had an impact on the Limekilns gallops and training facility, joining a protest march alongside occasional politician turned celebrity Matt Hancock.

The plans were later rejected, with Frazer thanking the Newmarket racing community for their support.

Other than that, not a great deal is known about Frazer’s intentions as culture secretary nor her thoughts on how to advance media, sport and the arts in the UK. More will be revealed in due course, but for now horse racing in England can rejoice that they may well have ‘one of their own’ in the perfect position to influence national policy.

Final Furlong

Watching Horse Race From Balcony

There’s no joy in typing these words, but British horse racing is in dire straits right now.

Attendance levels plummeted during the pandemic for obvious reasons, but their recovery since restrictions were lifted has been sluggish at best.

Prize money has also fallen, which has contributed to shrinking field sizes in both National Hunt and Flat races held in England, Wales and Scotland – Ireland has, to some extent, bucked the trend.

With smaller fields comes less of a betting interest for punters, and this cycle of negativity all leads to less money sloshing around the sport for its ultimate betterment.

Quite simply, there are fewer people watching racing live, training yards are scaling down their operations and refusing to travel long distances in an age of spiralling costs, while punters – sensing a lower-grade ‘product’ – are betting on other sports accordingly.

Quite what influence Frazer will be able to exert to halt the decline is anybody’s guess, but the hope is that she will be able to have some input into the White Paper before it is published – such a date remains a mystery, as it has for the best part of a year now.

The key will be in ensuring that punters aren’t forced out of their hobby by requirements to prove that they can afford their bets. Affordability checks are one thing, but asking individuals to submit private documents such as bank statements and payslips to faceless bookmaking firms quite another entirely.

It’s true that stakeholders within the industry have overplayed the possibility of a mass exodus to the gambling black market – many punters don’t even know what a VPN is, let alone how to use on, but as all ‘leisure’ spending is hit by the cost of living crisis, there’s a job on to retain punting interest in racing at a time when the betting levy is needed more than ever before.