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Germany: Leading owner-breeder Andreas Jacobs, president of Baden-Baden racecourse, has outlined a radical blueprint for the future of German racing that could involve shutting down as many as half the nation's racecourses.
Jacobs, who operates Newsells Park Stud in Britain as well as Gestut Fahrhof at home, also suggested greater levels of commercial innovation in arenas like internet gambling were needed to revitalise an industry not far off crisis, with pari-mutuel betting turnover down to just above €60 million (cash and internet) in 2011.
About half that figure was bet on thoroughbred racing, representing only about 25 per cent compared to betting levels of 15 years ago in a nation with 48 tracks (including nine trotting clubs).
Jacobs is the driving force behind the revitalisation of Baden-Baden, which was on its knees only three years ago owing to financial concerns. Even now, the Grosser Preis is worth just €250,000, only a third of its value at its zenith in the 1990s.
Baden-Baden provides about 30 per cent of Germany's total betting turnover - and Jacobs is agitating for strong action from the Direktorium (Jockey Club equivalent) to protect the future of a beleaguered industry.
"First of all there are too many racetracks," said Jacobs. "We should probably have only half as many tracks. We should strengthen the strong, not subsidise those who perform less well.
"There are too many subsidies for the weaker tracks. I am thinking about the East German tracks, which cannot be justified except for maybe Hoppegarten in Berlin. Our winter racing is also not an attractive product."
Jacobs was speaking at the Grosse Woche festival, German racing's most prestigious meeting, which drew to its climax on Sunday with Danedream's second victory in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden.
"We are not going to fund socialism outside of this place," he said. "The objective here at Baden-Baden is to show the world that you can r un a track professionally under commercial conditions to reach break-even point. Baden Racing isn't supposed to be a profit machine - it is supposed to be a functioning operation.
"But it needs commitment from others as well. For example, we need to coordinate the dates better. Sometimes we have three tracks racing on the same Sunday, which is not very intelligent."
While Jacobs' views are likely to prove controversial in German racing circles, he maintains drastic action is needed.
He explained: "There has been a slowdown in racing in the whole country and because the Direktorium has been concentrating on cost-cutting there has been only limited innovation.
"We are exporting our horses. Good horses are exported to western Europe and bad horses exported to eastern Europe. The home market is weak and we must revitalise."
Jacobs is hoping recent legislation will increase revenues accrued from bookmakers who have taken advantage of overseas bases to avoid taxation.
However, any effor ts to promote betting on the German tote are hampered by there being only about 50 off-course outlets in the whole country and limited internet platforms.
"Being a leader like Baden-Baden means not just being seen as the big one, it also means you need to innovate," said Jacobs. "You don't want to be seen as the bully all the time but sometimes racing in Germany is run merely as a weekend hobby. We must attempt to be more commercially minded."