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We Need To Change

I’m sitting at my desk having spent the morning yesterday with Anton the chiropractor treating the horses and then had a straighten up myself, which was much needed and finally I have gotten rid of my 3-week headache, so thank you Anton.

I have to pick the small one up soon, but I have some time to write a few lines. It’s been weird not having her around this week, she was so happy to go back to school and I am delighted she can be a little girl again around her friends, playing like little girls should.

As you all know last week was rubbish in the worst way, losing a horse is heart-breaking when we work so closely in such a small team, the hole it leaves is hard to fill. Dave was a loveable idiot, he pushed us to the limits with his weirdness and had moments of utter brain deadness, which could have resulted in serious accidents. However with time and patience and perseverance we overcame all his neurosis to get him to be the big I am that he became. Then to lose him in such a way…

It wasn’t even that he could have been a super horse for us, it wasn’t even that he could have possibly one day run at Cheltenham or Aintree, it was that he had learnt to trust us and started to show us what I had believed he could do from the day we bought him.

Dave cost me £7.5k out of a field as an unbroken 4-year-old, I sold him to Patricia 4 months later for what he stood me in, £10k. So, you look at those figures and realise that we had a horse that we valued so much, thought he could be our superstar and he cost his owner £10k broken in and cantering.

Now look at the average people are paying for good jumpers; the prices are ridiculous. What would we have had to of paid for him after his Newbury 2nd? Dave was not ruined, mental but not ruined. I usually have castoffs that others have sucked everything out of and sometimes they come good (Steve) but usually they do not come back (Flo), however it is getting harder and harder to train an average horse.

That has made me really evaluate racing and the industry, after that vile picture last week I found it hard to defend our great sport to those who would see it finished. I did have a big career wobble when we lost Dave and questioned what was the point of working in an industry that is run by people who are all about “image” yet do nothing practical about it… You see I have watched how things have changed over the last few years, how massive yards are more like factories with up to 300 horses, a situation in which you cannot possibly do the best for every horse in your care. I don’t give a monkeys who you are and believe me this is not any sour grapes, I would not in a million years want a big yard. I hate the numbers some trainers have, that the horses are there to win one, maybe two at any cost and then replaced. I say any cost, there is not the longevity in some yards now that we used to have.

The pressure is so great to get success, the fees are so high, the prize money is so low that some owners are not in it for the horse anymore, either. Note I say some, there are lovely owners and trainers out there still, Oliver Sherwood Fergal Obrien, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls are the bigger ones who do spring to mind that love their horses, but on the whole in racing the compassion and love for the horse is decreasing with the pressure to make it pay and get results.

The BHA are pandering to this now, there are far less low-grade races and I have banged on about this numerous times to no avail, the powers that have provided lip service but no more.

Nowadays your average horse, owned by its lovely owner who adores the horse, with not much money but can afford a small trainer, it ends up not getting a run in the perfect race, on the perfect ground, so when it does run it’s disappointing, which knocks the horse down the handicap a bit more, costs the owner months of fees, no enjoyment of racing and then doesn’t have a job as it has slid down too low to get a run. Yet years gone by it could have run in a 0-85 or a 0-90 and not been subjected by the bloody ridiculous speed they go now.

let’s look at a few of the lowest grade races and the entries next week:

2m 7f 0-100 handicap hurdle at Taunton for £2700 to the winner, 44 entries with 13 allowed to run, which could increase to 17 if there are enough stables.

Same card 2m3f 0-105 handicap hurdle for £2794 to the winner, same field size limits, 39 entries…

Then on the same card there is a 0-140 3m5f chase, total to the winner £7k, there are 12 entries...

You get where I’m going here? We used to have 0-85 races, 0-90, 0-95 and upwards and there are those who would stand and shout “bloody useless horses, waste of time, we need better class racing…” But that 0-140 race has 12 entries...

0-100s are now so fast and so competitive, with the new way of running to have 6/7/8 wanting to make it, whereby they go faster than some horses can cope with and lo and behold we have high injury rates and deaths on the track now. You cannot tell me that there is no correlation.

I have seen the change over the last two years, why is that? Maybe because the trainers/jockeys of the lower grade horses in a race know that they will be struggling and hope that if they get to the front, they can get their confidence and possibly win one. But inevitably those horses just get their hearts broken and end up curling up and being discarded.

If these races weren’t so oversubscribed, we would not be having the carnage we seem to have more often than not now, which also results in the most depressing of finishes sometimes on heavy ground. Horses walking over the line, legless, possibly 2 finishing when 13 started. That is bad PR.

For my mind by pushing out those who train or own horses because they love and care for them as individuals, regardless of whether they are a 150 horse or a 75 rated horse, who want to get the best out of a horse not the best horse, racing is becoming a much poorer place. The punters will still gamble, and the crowds will still turn up to watch the lower grade horses and they will still have a career.

However, I fear that nothing will change, the small people will be gradually pushed out and the factories of big yards and big owners will grow, farming horses out left right and centre to pretraining yards when they have an injury or getting rid as soon as the horse has outlived its usefulness, to be replaced with the next in line.

Racing is so concerned by it’s “image” at the moment, it is looking in the wrong direction, the welfare of horses long term and the disposable nature of our sport is something that needs addressing. We also need to invite the public to come to our yards and see what we do, how we look after them and tell them if a horse is retiring, why and what are we going to do for that horse, likewise if a horse has an injury, how we heal it and what life that horse will have after.

The small owner/breeder/trainer are the ones who clearly work and are involved in the sport because they love it, we still employ people, pay for our licenses/ownership fees, employ a farrier, vet, pay entry fees, jockey fees etc, why should we fall by the wayside?

I'm not really sure why I wrote this, nothing will be done and people will slate me for saying all is not right, however I can honestly say I am past caring what anyone thinks. To be fair I probably was a few years ago...


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