Friday 1 February 2013

“Little e” Resolutions for the Racing Industry – but I can see the pigs flying over Woolley Down

Despite the shocking weather, lots happening on the horse front. Quick Decisson wasn’t able to go to Wincanton when the hurdles / bumpers were abandoned, but will hopefully go to Exeter on 10th February; Shantou Magic had a really good workout at Lambourn during the week, and is only a couple of weeks off coming out; and Houndscourt did us proud with a game 2nd at Lingfield in a jumpers’ bumper. Two runs so far for Owners for Owners – a 1st and a 2nd sets the standard for whichever horse comes out next. Great to see both Timeform and Racing Post very complimentary: “plenty to recommend him on pedigree and should progress over jumps, with his long-term future likely to be over fences” and “ran a fine race on his first start since arriving from Ireland. A point winner at Tinahely in October, he would probably have found the trip on the sharp side, and rates as a decent prospect”. All very encouraging.

In the last blog, I flagged up a number of big recommendations for the racing industry. I’ve been in touch with the BHA about them and had what you might call an “interesting” discussion. More on that in the next blog.

I’m sure everyone has their own list of more immediate changes that could be easily made. Here are my “starters for 10”. As I’m writing it, I can see a flock of large pigs flying over the Woolley gallops!

1.  Racecourses and bookmakers complain of races with seven or fewer runners, particularly novice chases. Why don’t they target the problem ones and have prize-money down to eighth?

2.  Racecourses have done a great job recently with special initiatives, setting up jumpers’ bumpers, switching abandoned races to other tracks etc. Hats off, but why isn’t it done more often?

3.  Racecourses such as Chester have a fabulous Owners and Trainers facility, superb lunch etc. Others are simply shocking. Surely any track should provide something more than a stale bun and a cup of coffee, when we’re often spending £200-£500 just to get a horse to the course?

4.  Integrity of racing is critical. No problems with a crackdown on corruption – there will always be serious breaches, such as the the case of Andrew Heffernan. But two trainers I know very well, Karl Burke and Jim Boyle, were both dealt with very badly indeed and their livelihoods threatened during needlessly protracted and poorly handled investigations. Why do they take so long? I’ll examine Jim Boyle’s case in more detail in a later blog. It’s a disgrace.

5.  Prize money, and the trickle down into the racing industry, has to be improved. All of us should rally behind initiatives from the ROA and the Horsemen’s Group. Why wouldn’t we support them?

6.  Joint ownership, partnerships, syndicates etc. now represent a huge part of the industry. Yet we’re often treated as second-class citizens. How about racecourses targeting us all with special deals, much better facilities and a series of “syndicate races” with big prize money, only open to us?

7.  Racing for Change often talks about “bookending” the season. So why doesn’t that happen properly? Why have the start of the season at Cheltenham clash with Ascot’s Champions’ Day? Why is the start of the Flat such a damp squib nowadays?

8.  The administration and form-filling in being involved as an owner is simply shocking. Every form also has to have a cheque attached to it. I fear that it is a revenue stream for Weatherbys. Why can’t we have one payment (say, £100) and one form that covers everything involved? And online?

9.  The bookmakers are now evading the taxman with offshore gambling to the tune of several billions of pounds a year. How can HM Treasury allow that to happen? Put the legislation together, crack down on evasion and introduce a transaction tax on every bet struck online.

10.  Find a way of putting the welfare of horses and stable staff more centre stage. How do we do that? Don’t have any answers, but would welcome views.

I think I’ve only scratched the surface with these ten! Still lots of pigs flying out there ....


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