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I dropped the ball over Tote sale, admits Caborn 16/7/2008
Greg Wood

The former sports minister Richard Caborn admitted yesterday that he had "dropped a clanger" in failing to ensure that the Tote was sold to a racing trust during his time in office. However, he also proposed a new scheme for the future of the betting organisation that would, he claimed, "simplify the whole structure of racing".

Richard Caborn
Richard Caborn
Caborn was speaking during a parliamentary debate on the future of the Tote at Westminster Hall, during which he noted that uncertainty over the ownership of the organisation, which has a monopoly on pool betting and also operates nearly 550 off-course shops, has been going on for nearly 10 years. The Labour party has twice pledged in its manifesto to ensure the transfer of the Tote to a racing trust.

During yesterday's debate Caborn was criticised by Tobias Ellwood MP, the shadow minister for tourism, licensing and gambling, for the long delay in securing the future of the Tote. "He has said, we are where we are," Ellwood said. "That is an appalling excuse for what actually happened . . . He was in the job for six years."

At this point, Caborn intervened, saying: "I dropped a clanger".

Ellwood continued: "He says he was in the job and he dropped a clanger. He was the minister and the industry has suffered because a decision has not been made. We need action."

Earlier Caborn had outlined his proposals, under which the British Horseracing Authority would take charge of regulation while a newly-formed Tote Trust would administer the pool, credit and internet betting operations as well as the current responsibilities of the Levy Board. The Tote's betting-shop estate, meanwhile, would be sold off, with half of the proceeds being handed to racing. "What you want to build here is a financial vehicle to be able to continue to fund the sport over the medium to long term," he said. "What are the two incomes to that sport? One is the levy, and the other is the profits from the Tote. So why not put the Levy Board into the new Tote Trust, so the new Tote Trust actually becomes the financial body for the sport?"

The 90-minute debate was curtailed just a few minutes after Gerry Sutcliffe, the current sports minister, had started to respond on behalf of the government. He gave no firm indication of when a decision on the Tote's future might be made.

Britain's punters, meanwhile, yesterday continued to digest the performance of Montmartre in the Grand Prix de Paris on Monday night. The colt has displaced his stablemate, the unbeaten filly Zarkava, as favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in many bookmakers' lists and Alain de Royer-Dupre, their trainer, said yesterday that both could go to post at Longchamp in October.

"Montmartre can go on all ground, very soft won't be a problem for him. For Zarkava, good-to-soft would be OK, but softer might be a problem. They have never galloped together but always work with Sageburg. When they carry the same weight, they finish in the same position with him," said the trainer, who believes Montmartre "is more mature now" and has overcome the pre-race nerves that were blamed for his poor run in the Prix du Jockey Club [French Derby] last month.

Meanwhile Mick Channon said yesterday that he has no qualms about booking Tony Culhane for two rides at Hamilton tomorrow, the jockey's first engagements since he was banned for a year for passing on privileged inside information.

"He's always worked very hard," said Channon. "He's done his punishment and now he's got to get on with his life. I'm pleased he's back. He's worked hard, been to America, and done his time."

Monica Dickinson, matriarch of the redoubtable Yorkshire-based racing family, died yesterday aged 83. There were generous tributes for the mother of Michael, who famously sent out the first five home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and wife of trainer Tony, who took over the licence when her son moved to train for Robert Sangster at Manton in 1984.

Sir Peter O'Sullevan said: "She was a stalwart and a driving force in one of the most efficient National Hunt racing production teams in the last half-century."
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