Friday, 1 September 2017

Dealing with “Non-Runners” – Not a Non-Issue but Not a Nuclear One, Neither – Part 1, The Proposals

Firstly, apologies for the poor grammar of the heading. Shocking from a former Head Boy of Chester City Grammar School, where I first developed my passion for racing. Many a so-called private study afternoon was spent on the Roodee. Indeed, as a leading question into today’s blog, how many readers remember the redoubtable Pee Mai? Although they didn’t exist in the early 1970s, this horse was a veritable ATM for me. The poor horse was completely blind in his right eye, so his trainer would run him on right-handed tracks to get the weight down, then switch him on to the left-handed track of Chester. Usually starting at double-figure prices, if he had a low draw he would go round the running rail like a greyhound and was unstoppable. On the other hand, if he was drawn high it was funny how he seemed to develop a snuffle or cough on the morning of the race and was withdrawn. Or there was a convenient stone for him to step on.

That trend of non-runners at Chester, and similar tracks such as Beverley, is just one contributing factor that has disturbed the officer’s mess of British racing. In the middle of the dog-days of August, the spirit of collaboration and consensus of our sport’s tripartite structure blew up. Captain Wayman, gallant and dapper, of the BHA put forward ten proposals to curb the curse of late withdrawals. Such a reasonable chap as ever, his proposals were described as “proportional, balanced and targeted”. They had no sooner been launched than a huge barrage was fired off from Lieutenant Liverton of the ROA, decidedly hot under the collar. “The protection of the welfare of its horses and people” must come first. In waded Padre Arnold of the NTF with cautious support. Before you could blink, the tin hats were on again, with Corporal “Clot” Clare of Corals sniping between the eyes with audacious comments such as: “What business would be happy to deliver such major and costly customer dissatisfaction so frequently? Only a business that is happy to decline in popularity ….” Not to be outdone, up popped Sapper Dale Gibson of the PJA demanding that trainers were taken away and bull-whipped, and requiring owners to pay for jockeys who had lost their rides on the day. Mutineer Mottershead of the Racing Post, as usual, went right over the top (but not the trenches) and questioned whether the whole regulatory tripartite structure of the BHA should be reviewed.

Crikey! What on earth triggered this bombardment of bluster? Actually it is a pretty serious issue and not as straightforward necessarily as it looks. I’ll deal with some of the issues in Part 2 of the blog. Here is the context: since 2016, there has been an 8% rise in the number of non-runners. Three categories account for 90% of absentees after declaration time: self-certificates (from trainers), vet’s certificates, and withdrawals due to going changes. While the “vast majority of trainers operate within the spirit of the rules” (Wayman), that is clearly not always the case. In 2016 there were 8,393 non-runners equating to 8.56% of all declarations. So, to deal with this, ten proposals have been made:

  1. The BHA will publish tables showing individual trainer non-runner rates from the previous 12 months at the end of each quarter.
  2. Any trainer with more than 100 declarations in the period with a non-runner rate above a published threshold percentage (namely 50% above the average non-runner rate) will be suspended from using self-certificates for 12 months.
  3. Any trainer above the threshold but not included within the published data (owing to having fewer than 100 declarations during the previous 12 months) would have their situation reviewed. Any such trainer may be suspended from using self-certificates if it is considered appropriate by the BHA.
  4. Any horse who has been declared as a non-runner with a vet’s certificate would not be able to race on the two days following the race.
  5. Stewards to hold an enquiry where a horse is scheduled to run on identical going as that on which it had been withdrawn during the previous month because of the ground. Where a pattern arises, or where it is considered circumstances warrant it, action may be taken such as preventing the horse from running.
  6. The number of going-related non-runners will remain under close scrutiny, particularly when there has been only a marginal change in the going description. Should there be insufficient decline in the number of going-related non-runners, consideration will be given to the possibility of introducing a scale of going changes within the rules of racing and requiring a more significant change of going for a horse to be withdrawn, albeit with a greater degree of tolerance at the extremes of going.
  7. All cases of a late change to going descriptions (i.e. once racing has started), to be recorded and reviewed by the BHA, alongside situations in which a high percentage of horses are withdrawn having already arrived on the course. Where records indicate cause for concern, the BHA Racecourse Inspectorate Team will increasingly visit the relevant racecourse prior to race meetings to assess ground conditions and compare with the Clerk’s going description.
  8. BHA to encourage the ROA and PJA to agree that an owner will pay the full riding fee to the jockey of a non-runner declared after 9:00 on the day of the race. It is also proposed that this would take the place of any increase to the riding fee in 2018.
  9. In cases where non-runners incur a fine, the fixed £140 fine is to be substantially increased for any such non-runners declared after 9:00 on the day of the race.
  10. When considering whether to extend the 10:00 deadline for declarations under Rule F(90), any trainer who has declared more than one horse will be treated as if a maximum of one declaration has been made.
So there you have it. On the face of it, all perfectly reasonable. You’ll have to wait for the next blog to see why it has caused so much vituperation. Stretcher parties to the ready!

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