There have been two racing stories over the last week, both involving
the British Horseracing Authority and the nation's racehorse trainers, that
appear to be pulling in different directions.
On the one hand, there
was the fuss over the BHA's seminars on the use and misuse of inside
information, as the Authority tried to drag our handlers, if not quite into the
21st century, then certainly towards the right side of the first moon landing.
On the other, the Racing Post reports a sharp increase in the number of
non-runners, coinciding with the introduction of a system at the start of the
current Flat season which allowed trainers to declare a horse a non-runner
without the need for a vet's certificate. In contrast to the strong-arming over
inside information - which was "do it or lose your licence," - this sounds like
a much more cosy, "right you are, old chap" sort of arrangement.
Look at it another way, though, and both
issues revolve around the same thing, which is trust. More specifically, can
our trainers be trusted, either with inside information, or when they say that
their horse has met with a sudden setback when it just so happens that it has
been given a dreadful wide draw in a sprint at Chester?
their horses are the basis of a billion-pound gambling industry, the right
answer here, clearly, is: I should bloody well hope so.
Yet if the
Middleham training fraternity had deliberately set out to make us all think
twice, they could not have done a better job than the one they showcased last
week. The BHA asked them to attend a 45-minute seminar, or spend the same
amount of time completing an online teaching module. In response, the trainers
seemed angry and obstinate. If Timeform rated humans, they would have given
every last one of them a squiggle.
For pity's sake, people, it's not
even an hour out of your life. In any given week, there will be thousands of
people who spend many thousands of hours sitting in training seminars. They may
not want to be there, they may think they know it all anyway, but they just get
on with it. It's just the way the modern world works.
The problem is
that for some trainers, the modern world is a foreign country that they have no
desire to visit. Even the BHA's executives will privately concede that when it
comes to changing attitudes on an issue like inside information, the jockeys
were always going to be a relative walkover when set against their employers.
The weighing room's staff, after all, has a comparatively high
turnover rate, so the BHA can tackle new recruits as well as old hands, and
wait (or hope) for a new mood to percolate through the ranks. Trainers, on the
other hand, can live in a bubble for 40 years or more, and their attitudes,
habits and prejudices are in there with them. When they kick up a fuss as they
did last week, they have no idea how it looks to anyone peering in from
They are not all like that, of course. More recent recruits
tend to have a rather broader outlook on life, while rumour has it that one of
Britain's best-known trainers, and one what's more who has had a few run-ins
with the authorities, phoned last week to tell them he couldn't understand what
all the fuss was about.
But there are definitely bubbles in the
training ranks that need to be popped for everyone's benefit. Even their
inhabitants may appreciate it one day.