3 Results Found For: July 2022

23rd July 2022

Catherine MacRae gives us ‘Another View’ in the Racing Post today and tells us that she is frustrated by the lack of horses saddled in the saddling boxes at Sandown and that trainers, by choosing to saddle their horses in the stable yard, ‘shrouded in secrecy’, will not help people fall in love with the sport. I have heard similar views expressed in the Racing Post  before by people who, I would imagine, have never been in a saddling box with a horse. But, rather than assume the same about Catherine MacRae, I decided to try and determine what knowledge of the subject she might have. I ‘Googled’ her and found a LinkedIn page on which she describes herself as ‘a trainee journalist at the Racing Post’ with ‘a background in horseracing’ and she tells us that she worked for nine months as a barn manager for Lucinda Russell. She should know better.

She suggests that ‘Sandown’s shaded facilities [the pre-parade ring] offer an excellent opportunity for runners to acclimatise to the atmosphere before presenting them to the main paddock  – a significantly louder and more stimulating environment’, but this is race-day, not the time for training and education, especially when you are running a filly in a Listed race and looking for her to give 100%. Once a horse is upset, even slightly, it is quite difficult to get it to relax again, especially immediately pre-race with so much going on. And saddling boxes are a very alien environment for our horses. So much so that I have to wonder when they were first introduced and how they have evolved.

If, like Catherine MacRae, you have attended a pre-parade ring with saddling facilities, you will have noticed that we lead the horse into the saddling box – a three-sided stall – and turn it to face outwards while it is saddled. Many saddling boxes, especially the older ones, are too narrow to easily turn the horse and so begins the catalogue of issues likely to upset the animal. I have, on very rare occasions, tried saddling a horse – one intent on barging out of the saddling box – facing inwards but this is fraught with dangers as the personnel have to squeeze between the horse’s hindquarters and the walls of the box to get in and out. Not a good idea if the horse gets at all fractious. And so we saddle the horse facing outwards with nothing but its groom to stop it coming out if it decides that it would rather be outside. In many cases there is little room to work on either side and it is not a nice place to be if the horse gets at all difficult.

Far better, wherever possible, to saddle in surroundings that the horse is used to – a loose box – and before the horse is presented to the atmosphere of the public areas of the racecourse. Let’s face it, I don’t think fans in other sports feel the need to have a view of dressing rooms or preparation areas.

What’s more the saddling procedure which I have described is, almost invariably,  a three-person job. Staff shortages seem to be commonplace these days in many industries, including racing, and not every trainer can afford the luxury of three people to saddle a horse. The job can be done easily by two people – even one – in the stable with little or no risk to horse or handler. Why would you do it any other way if you didn’t have to?

18th July 2022

In May the BHA, at last, decided to lift the restrictions which, for two years, had prevented entry to the weighing room for anyone other than jockeys, racecourse personnel and BHA officials. It was one of the many over-the-top measures introduced to help minimise the potential spread of Covid-19 and help to ensure the continuation of racing during the pandemic. However, when lifting the restrictions, they couldn’t just return to the way it was before. Some bright spark had to come up with a ‘new normal’. The BHA announced that, “From Saturday 21 May, trainers or representatives with a horse declared to run will be permitted to enter the Weighing Room complex whenever there is a clear work purpose for doing so. Work-related reasons for entering the Weighing Room are likely to include collecting saddles, observing apprentices weighing out, and for Stewards Enquiries.”

I’m not at all sure what prompted this desire to explain what ‘work’ means for a trainer or, indeed, what non ‘work related’ reason a trainer might have for entering the weighing room but, inevitably, racecourses have interpreted this instruction in different ways and many, if not most, have a person posted on the door to challenge everyone, other than jockeys and officials, attempting to enter the weighing room.

Pre-pandemic, my usual routine on arrival at a racecourse was to go to the weighing room, collect a race card, and check the notices on the wall for non-runners (and the reasons e.g. ground, which may indicate a problem), going changes, etc.. Now, apart from the indignity of constantly having to explain my purpose for being there, there is no point as they have stopped posting these notices in the weighing room and I am not aware that they are posted anywhere else on course.

At Haydock, where, let’s face it, there tends to be a greater than average number of non-runners, I would always go immediately to the weighing room to check the situation but now the non-runners are no longer displayed and, being a Jockey Club course, it is impossible to obtain the relevant information over the internet. The jockey Club free wi-fi system is hopeless as you have to go through the whole log-in process every time you want access and they have blocked the Racing Post website which, for most of us, is the best and quickest source of information on form, non-runners, etc.. Chester is another track where non-runners are commonplace and there the wi-fi system is so bad, and mobile phone signal virtually non-existent, that we cannot obtain the necessary information and we cannot report to owners, who are not in attendance, after the race. When I am not present myself, I have no contact with my representative.

It would seem that the BHA have a hankering for the bad old days when the regulator, The Jockey Club, saw trainers as coming from a lower order akin to servants. It is time for all of us – trainers, stable staff, and all others who are working to put the race meeting on – to be afforded due respect and aided, rather than hindered, in trying to do our job. Trainers and their representatives should have unhindered access to the weighing room and all necessary information should be readily available therein, and there should be a dedicated, and efficient, wi-fi system for racing professionals on course.

15th July -2022

Who was the mystery ‘prominent Newmarket handler’ who  supposedly urged fellow trainers not to declare their horses for the last race on Newbury’s Saturday card? He, or she, deserves a medal if it is true. I was assuming it was a ‘he’ as there were only three Newmarket trainers with entries in the race – four, if you count John and Thady Gosden as two. But, I suppose, it might have been a trainer who didn’t have an entry in the race.

It is interesting that the Racing Post have chosen not to name this person. The daily betting rag’s past form on such matters would suggest that they would be splashing the trainer’s name across the front page and castigating the rebel rouser. I can’t imagine that they would have held back if it was William Haggas. They certainly didn’t the last time that he and I urged trainers not to run in a below tariff race at Yarmouth – they called us ‘bullies’.

I wonder if the name will come out and if we’ll be seeing comment pieces from Alan Byrne and Bruce Millington personally attacking the ‘rogue’.

On this occasion, I wasn’t involved and that is largely because I have been voting with my feet all season and I have had very few entries at Newbury. This ‘boycott’, if that’s what you want to call it, made me look at how many runners I have had at the Berkshire track so far this year. The answer is three and the only tracks where I have had less runners are Thirsk (2), Weatherby (2), and Ffos Las (0). Ffos Las is a particularly long journey for us and there are more than enough of the type of races they run on offer at much closer tracks. The same cannot be said for the others. I wonder if they care. The management at Newbury probably don’t. Why would they? They’re doing very well as house-builders.

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