THE closer we get to Christmas, the more intense the festive dinners and drinks parties become. But one location stood out this week – when a select group of the racing fraternity gathered at The Hidden Temple to celebrate Simon Ellen’s chairmanship of Racecourse Media Group.

The Hidden Temple was a masonic meeting place, long forgotten and walled off for decades before being rediscovered during a 1990s refurbishment of London’s Andaz Hotel. The 12 different types of marble which adorn the walls, the plasterwork depicting the 12 sun-signs of the zodiac, the leather thrones positioned north, south, east and west, not to mention the golden organ, all add to the surreal atmosphere.

But this was not the meeting of a secret society. This was a meeting of people whose sole aim is to broadcast horseracing, from just over half of the British racecourses, to as wide an audience as possible. Simon, who has served for eight years on the RMG board and is stepping down after six years as chairman, has overseen growth in the revenue returned to racecourses from £37million back in 2011 to nearly £110million.

Media rights payments currently represent the largest single element of racecourse turnover – with the majority of RMG tracks being structured in such a way that all profits are reinvested into the sport, either in the form of additional prize money or improved services and facilities.

It’s evident, however, even across the painted ceilings of the Hidden Temple there are dark clouds on the horizon. The Government’s decision to reduce stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from April next year will impact on the number of betting shops – which will hit the value of racing’s media rights with some forecasts suggesting that racing could lose up to £40million.

So it wasn’t particularly surprising when ARC, the racecourse group which controls a large number of the tracks which aren’t part of RMG, announced they’d have to implement a reduction in prize funds later in 2019. Reaction from owners and trainers was immediate and pretty fierce. But while ARC’s courses will have a different set of deals with the betting industry, all British racecourses are sitting in a similar boat.

The truth is no-one knows what the full impact of the Government’s legislation will be; ARC’s announcement may prove to be premature. But it’d be irresponsible not to flag the issue now. When revenue drops at a racecourse which puts all of its money into developing prize-funds or facilities, some noble aspirations are going to be defeated.

That shouldn’t take away from the great strides made by all in recent years. And none of us should be too upset when the occasional aspiration gets defeated: this week’s tip is Testify in the Tommy Whittle Steeplechase at Haydock.