08 Apr A change from Dancer!
I have felt the need to take over Dancer’s blog for tonight, in an attempt to offer a fair and reasonable argument to the recent press coverage about the loss of self-certification over non-runners. We have not been allowed to put our opinions across properly, so I have attempted to do so in a letter to the Racing Post, which I have copied here. I hope this makes sense, we are a yard that cares deeply for the welfare of our horses, as do our owners. Our trainer is exceptionally hands on, and it seems unfair to be punished for this approach.
I am writing in response to the BHA’s recent legislation regarding non-runners in Britain, and their decision to prevent anyone above the 14% threshold on the flat and 12% over jumps from having the freedom to self-certificate their horses. As Ben Haslam’s (one of the trainers affected) wife, some may see my point of view as biased, but it also gives an inside view on how this affects a smaller yard from a personal, and recently emotional, viewpoint.
In a perfect world, there would be no non-runners. No punter would have to suffer the terrible loss of a betting deduction. Field sizes would be as they are declared and all horses would return home safe and sound. However, horses do not exist inside a perfect world, particularly racehorses. They are not robots, but finely tuned athletes with unbelievably delicate constitutions. They are monitored to within an inch of their lives and we are often toeing a fine line between triumph and disaster.
For anyone reading who hasn’t worked within a yard, problems are not always of a veterinary nature. It is not the black and white world of ‘this horse is unsound,’ ‘this horse is sound’ that people seem to perceive it to be. This week, for example, we had a filly entered that was likely to start favourite. She has been working well and eating well, full of herself every day and giving plenty of trouble at home as is her habit. The day before the race, she was very quiet in herself. Nothing was outwardly wrong, she trotted up sound and she ate her dinner as usual. Had we called a vet out, as we now have to do, they would have been completely unable to issue a certificate saying she couldn’t run. Had we not felt the pressure from the BHA and our newly enforced ban, not to mention the press around it, we may well have followed our gut feelings – which admittedly are sometimes proved wrong, but certainly not always – and taken her out.
This option has been taken away, and she went to the races looking outwardly fantastic. The gut feeling seemed all wrong as she looked a million dollars in the parade ring, and the punters were keen to put their money on. She proceeded to get wound up in a way she never has before down at the start, ran with the choke out and came home vying for last. I then had to lead a clearly distressed horse back to the stable yard, where she was found to have suffered a heart fibrillation.
I am pleased to report that her future looks like it will be fine, but I hope you can see that this is a totally unacceptable situation. Horse welfare should be first and foremost in this game, especially if we are to maintain an accord with the general public, and the trainers should be allowed to decide for themselves when their horses are spot on and when they are under the weather, without pressure. From a punter’s point of view, surely they should feel safer knowing that every horse they back has gone to the races with the full confidence of the yard behind it, rather than worrying about their 25p deductions?
In a small yard, every run counts, both for us and our owners. We generally do not have the support of wealthy foreign influences, and most of our horses are owned by groups of friends who are in it for the love, but also for results. They do not want to be left holding a massive vet bill because of being forced to run when things are not quite right, or to have one of their horses seasons ruined for the same reason – and neither do we, as we do not have inexhaustible replacements lined up in pre-training yards.
This year we have had one non-runner from 25 starters. We do not have 100 runners a month, and it is going to take us a considerable amount of time to decrease our percentage, but we will not be doing so at risk to our own horses. Our only fault is being too conscientious, for which certain punters have now labelled us ‘dodgy geezers,’ and given us plenty of the dreaded twitter abuse, mainly thanks to the absurd amount of press coverage. This is also a negative when trying to get a small yard on the map – it would be nice to occasionally have our winners written up in a report instead!
Whilst it is a situation that clearly needs addressing, the rule needs altering. It needs a lot more research and more factors taken into consideration. Maybe you could look closer at the statistics of trainers who regularly take badly drawn horses out, or who run their horses on the same ground two days later – but at the moment it is too generalised, and it takes too long for smaller trainers to escape the grip of the percentages.
It is no coincidence that the jumps game has no trainers above the threshold, including us! Could this maybe have something to do with 24 hour declarations?! A lot can change in 48 hours of a thoroughbred’s life, less so in 24, so if we continue to enforce this legislation on the flat, maybe the time frame needs to be narrowed to be equal with the jumpers.
This is a tough game already. Let’s not make it tougher.