Linbrook Life #2

“Breed the best to the best, and hope for the best.”  An old adage but without doubt as true as it ever was.  As I write this, most of us that have decided to breed this year will have completed the task (or rather the mares will!), and they will be safely tucked up at home for another 11 month pregnancy.

So as promised, here is a little more about life on our stud.  For those of you that read my last blog, thanks for the great feedback – and your reward is my perhaps misguided belief that you want more!

Firstly, the decision of what is “the best” and who to send a mare to.  This is achieved as objectively as possible – using statistics such as the stallion’s success as a racehorse, his

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Pearl Secret – A stallion with lots to prove, but with a pedigree with loads of promise

ability to produce winners, and the sales results for his offspring – the latter important if breeding to sell.

As a breeder, of course your mare can only get pregnant once a year whereas stallions can cover mares (or books) numbering 150 or more.  It is important therefore to pick a good husband as the subsequent offspring will decide the reputation of the mare in the long run, and if she can produce racehorses of reasonable quality as to make her viable.

So after sifting through lots of statistics, the choice is made.  In reality we look less at commercial drivers and more at the planned mating – will it make a strong, attractive horse that will race reasonably early and be of interest to our market?  For us temprament and looks are more important than financial potential at the sales – although that is always a bonus!  We can proudly say we keep track of all our foals, even into retirement.

Enough of the theory.  There will be many reading this who know much more than I pretend to about pedigrees and equally many will want to know the details of mating!  In thoroughbred breeding, all mares have to be live covered – so a physical meeting of sire and mare is required.  I will keep it clean!

If the mare has foaled, she will generally come into what we call foal heat around 7 – 10

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We will not travel the mare to cover until the foal is strong enough to cope with the trip.

days from the birth.  With her hormones readjusting, and her milk in high demand, this is not the best time to mate – although some breeders do.  We allow the mare to come into her next cycle, a further 21 days after the foal heat ends, before sending her for her date as this allows her internal structures to recover and strengthen, allows the foal to grow strong so it can travel safely with mum to the stallion stud, and in our experience results in a pregnancy first time.  This is important when travelling mares to the stud and “walking in” – where a mare is taken to the stud for mating and does not stay on the same stud as the stallion.  A wasted journey can be very irritating.

For mares that were not in foal, the warmer spring weather will encourage the heat cycle to start around February / March.  In colder weather, or for an earlier cover, we bring the mare into a stable and keep her warm and “under lights” in order to fool her

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Equilume make a small blue light to shine into the mares eye – causing faster initial cycling

system into thinking the days are longer and spring is here.  The use of electric light to perform this is almost magical – and nowadays there is even a small blue light which is shone into the corner of the mare’s eye which somehow encourages her to think it is spring in the middle of a snow storm – witchcraft!

We cannot cover until mid-February anyway as the gestation period is 11 months, but if the mare foals early, you could end up with a foal who becomes a yearling on 1st January (all racehorses official birthday) when it is in fact a few days old!  We like our foals to be delivered from late February to April at Abacus Bloodstock as we find earlier foals tend to arrive in poor weather, whilst later foals may be too immature for a chance to run as a 2 year old.  Therefore we cover from mid-March through to the first week in May generally.

Our stud vet will insert a scanning probe into the mare’s rectum to see if she has an egg ready to be fertilised.  The image is taken through the vaginal wall and allows the vet to

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Scanning the mare – she has to hope for a vet with small hands! (courtesy Veteriankey.com)

sweep the probe across the mares pelvis to see both horns of the uterus.   When the egg reaches a certain size, our vet will then tell us the mare is ready to walk in, and a call is made to the stallion stud to arrange the visit.  Generally they can accomodate at short notice, sometimes the same day and almost always within 24 hours.  If you miss it, you have to wait another 21 days!  Some studs use a teaser – a horse or pony stallion who is introduced to the mare – and if he is greeted with a coo rather than a flying hoof, the mare is ready, although sadly the teaser goes unsatisfied!  At Abacus we prefer the science of a scan, and avoid the crest-fallen look of a teaser.

When the mare arrives for the stallion, she will have already had blood and swab tests to check for any contagious diseases such as Equine Herpes which would infect the stallion or prevent a healthy mating.  The paperwork is checked by the stallion stud and the mating can begin.  Again they may use a teaser, but generally with a scanned mare, we can be fairly sure she will be receptive to the stallion’s advances.  Of course we generally have a small foal being held away from the main action but close enough to reassure mum, and this can cause the mare to be a little bad tempered – although she seems to forget when it matters!

Stallions, like us men, have different techniques of courting.  Some are very “wham, bam, thank you Ma’am”, others bill and coo, and even gently nibble the ears and neck (I got a little excited myself then!).  One of the greatest Casanovas I have seen is Galileo’s son Telescope, standing as a dual purpose sire at Shade Oak Stud.  He is a real gentleman and will even chat to the mare after the event.

It is all over in a matter of seconds and the mare is back in the horsebox within minutes.  After travelling maybe 3 hours to a covering, it seems a long drive home after a disappointing climax – ladies I know how some of you must feel now!

We  have the mare scanned 14 days after mating as this will tell us if there is still an egg in place – in which case it will have been fertilised,at which point we can see a small indication of the foal (generally a small dot in a black hole), or if it is gone; then it will be

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23 day scan

another visit to the stallion.  We can inject hormones to bring the heat cycle sooner, which we may do as we approach the end of the breeding season. This scan allows us to ensure we do not have twins.  As horses tend not to carry twins successfully, the vet will pop one of the two sacs leaving one embryo to develop. 

We then rescan the mare a week or so later to check progress and that the embryo has embedded in the wall of the womb.   A further scan is taken at around 35 days from covering when we can see a heartbeat in the embryo – hopefully indicating we can expect a healthy foal, and a beautiful racehorse in 11 months time. 

Once again, I hope this has been interesting and please retweet and comment as always.  We hope for thise breeders who have covered this year, everyting has worked out to plan and that all of you are staying safe.

 

 

 

Linbrook Life #1

With all the doom and gloom around racing, or the lack of it, here at Abacus Bloodstock we thought we would bring you a little bit about life on the stud and share some of the day to day activities which go to make up our operations at Abacus Bloodstock.  We hope you will find it interesting, and please drop me a line if you want to know more.

So a little bit about us – we operate what is registered as the largest stud, by number of mares and foals, in Staffordshire from our 50 acre farm just outside the brewing town of

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South facing fields make for great grazing

Burton.  The property is made up of the main house, a 3-bed staff cottage, a front yard with 10 brick stables, 2 foaling boxes and a 4 bay yearling barn.  The yard also houses the tack room and a two-storey feed and storage barn, all built in a quadrant with a large yard area in the middle.  There is an apple orchard which serves as one of the nursery paddocks, which is adjacent to the other 2 nursery paddocks – all positioned directly in front of the yard and farmhouse, and therefore easy for mares with foals to spend the day outside.

To the rear of the property we have a yard which houses the 5 horse covered walker, an all weather exercise arena to the side and a large pole barn which is divided into a hay store on one side and a stable block of 4 large stables in the other bay.  We also have a solarium for the horses, which is very welcome for the older horses after exercise.  From the rear gates there is access to the front 5 near paddocks, and these lead to a further 35

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All-weather arena overlooking the orchard & staff cottage

acres of grazing land.  We also have a small 5 acre annexe with two paddocks which is ideal for when the mares and foals are separated in the early Autumn, as they cannot call to one another and so life is a little more relaxed for them.  Our CCTV system covers all areas of the farm and stables, and is a real must for foal watching during the birthing season.

Our routine starts at about 7.30 am.  Any horses which are in are fed and all the outdoor horses are checked and, where required, are fed.  As the weather improves, rugs are removed so they do not over heat and can enjoy the sun on their backs.

Mares and foals are kept in at night and turned out in the day.  Amazingly, foals enjoy going out within a few hours of birth, and you can actually see them getting stronger and their limbs straightening within a few hours – after 11 months of growing inside the mare.

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Foals enjoy early turnout to grow and develop

Within the first day, they are usually running around – although the nursery paddocks are designed to restrict too much exertion in case this damages their young joints.  However foals tend to be fairly resilient and can fall over or trip themselves up in what may appear a jumble of legs – only to stand up all very embarassed, shake their heads and continue as if nothing happened.  Mum generally is busy grazing and you can almost see the eyebrows raise and the tutting from her!

We have 3 foals this year from our 4 resident broodmares.  The first two, a colt by Outstrip and a filly by Lethal Force arrived 25th March, while the last foal, a filly by Poet’s Word was born on 15th April.  The older foals are sharing the orchard, where they are enjoying one another’s company.  We usually wait around 15 to 20 days before putting more than one mare and foal in the paddock together.  This allows the foal to become stronger and a little worldly wise; able to dodge a flying hoof if needed from an over protective mare.  Once together, they love the days out and return tired but happy to their stables around 5pm (weather permitting).  It can be a challenge sometimes as, like children, they would sometimes prefer to stay out and play – and they can prove elusive to catch.  All foals wear a leather headcollar from day 1 when outside.  This makes them easier to catch, and also gets them used to having tack and people around their ears and head.  Leather is used rather than nylon as it will break in the event they become trapped on something and they are removed in the stables.

Foals will actually try to eat grass within a few days and will also eat Mum’s muck.  This is common as it is the way for them to build the required gut flora and enzymes required for good digestion.  Foals are born without this or any anti-bodies of their own and the first few hours of life are important in ensuring they drink the first

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A new born is up within 30 minutes or so of birth – Mum onthe other hand likes a rest!

feed, which includes anti-bodies within the rich cholostrum.  For foals who seem confused as to where the milk bar is, and after about 3 hours at most, we tend to milk the mare and bottle feed the foal to ensure they have received the crucial first feed.  As most times the foaling is in the night, it also means that we can go to bed sooner rather than later after the birth.

Our small team take it in turns to watch the cameras.  I tend to get the first period – upto about 2am.  This year all foals came on my watch, although it is all hands to the pump when the foaling is underway, just in case there are complications, or the mare needs help in any way.  We tend to gently pull the foal clear of the mare, ensure its airways are clear and the bag it is born in is intact – ensuring nothing has remained in the mare.  The bag itself generally tears open during birthing, and usually remains hanging from the mare for a short time after birth.  It is important not to pull this out as it can harm the mare and will fall out of its own accord.

I hope you have enjoyed a little of what goes on at the stud.  Next week I will be writing about mating plans and covering.  Please share our blog and see our latest pictures and posts via twitter or contact us by email with any questions or comments.

Meanwhile, stay safe during lockdown.

 

 

 

Racing – A Public Matter of Survival

As we approach the fourth week of lockdown, and what seems like years since we last saw racing in the UK, there are calls from many in racing and in the wider world for a lifting of restrictions  – at a time when we have seen the highest death rates so far in this pandemic!  Timing could not be worse.

It is absolutely right that the BHA and Horsemen groups are planning for the return of racing, as many industries are, or should be doing, as a matter of course.  However, it is very difficult to plan for anything when there are so many external variables, and we must not forget, people are seeing loved ones die on a daily basis.  The discussions around racing pale into insignificance when lives are being lost.  They are also poorly timed, at least when aired publicly,  following the totally undeserved, but nonetheless very public attacks on Cheltenham Festival 2020.

When, like me, you are instrumental in bringing horses into the world – from the creation on paper, to the foaling and nursing at some un-godly hour of the night, it is

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Racing relies on public support – including those members of the public who are also owners

hard not to see what you are doing as the most important thing in the world.  When what you do relies on income which has also been cut to zero, and you are already robbing Peter to pay Paul just to keep going because of historically poor sales figures in a majority of breeding operations, even before welfare and other issues, it can be the only focus of concern.  But what must be remembered is that racing and all the activity and services surrounding it, is a sport and therefore relies heavily on good-will and financial investment of some sort from the public.  If we become insular and think we can survive  then we are wrong.  There is far less money within racing than the amount of money required to keep it going, even with the £125 million levy reserve which is there for a rainy day, although those who hold the purse strings seem to think it is currently not rainy enough! If an industry supposedly worth £4 to 5 Billion is surviving only on this dwindling reserve then the whole system needs to be changed and that will need a complete change of attitude at the top.

So new money, and lots of it, is required via betting, racecourse admissions, television packages and new owners – all of which requires Joe Public to dip their hands in their pockets when the time comes to start again.  And because of that, public perception, like it or not, is the most important asset we have at our disposal.  But the industry cannot go to government and plead for funds when so many other sectors are in equally bad shape – and racing is seen by a public majority as a rich man’s sport at best, and an irrelevance in general.

What money there currently is will likely be diverted to trainers, jockeys and stable staff.  And whilst these are absolutely deserving in some ways, the issue is that if owners and breeders are not supported then the long term funding will run out.  These are the people that pay the bills and supply the raw material – and continue to be asked to pay adminsitration fees and training fees even whilst racing is stopped.  They are also the people that have paid into the funding of racing over the years and should perhaps expect some respite when times are hard.  They will determine the long term viability of racing and if treated poorly or forgotten now, they will leave in even greater numbers than they already are.

The large owners and breeders will certainly survive.  But that takes care of the Pattern races and perhaps 15% of the trainers.  The small trainer with 10 or 20 horses and owners made up of local businessmen and pub syndicates will be lost forever.  Then the 840pm Class 6 0-50 handicap at Wolverhampton will be left with no horses and the £500 or whatever in levy, entry fees and TV rights that gives to racing will be lost forever too.

That is the reality for racing today, now!  Not if we can stage Royal Ascot behind closed doors, but if we can stop the foundations of the sport disappearing forever.  Some may

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Large owners will survive, but they are just the small minority in a sport so reliant on grassroots for survival.

say that racing behind closed doors is fine but for many owners, paying to watch a live feed on a mobile telephone of a horse which you have paid to train, transport and enter into the race so that the BHA can charge you fees, the racecourse can sell media images of a horse you cannot video were you able to attend, and the bookies can make profit, is asking a little too much of the goodwill – particularly when the winner gets £1500 and the also rans can’t even get free coffee and biscuits in the lounge!

We are in uncharted, very choppy waters currently.  Unlike foot & mouth or Equine Influenza of the past, the whole of society is changed in these times, not just racing.  People who could afford horses now find themselves with no businesses or surviving on basic welfare payments, small breeders who have had a torrid time in the last few years have no reserves and little capital to realise in an already flat market.  Where before a secondary income may have helped survive these times, these incomes are equally non-existent.

Racing must plan for resumption when it happens, but must do so quietly and without sounding needy or hurried.  This is not just about turning the money tap back on, it is about the way it is done:

  • distancing the sport from the charge that it is partly to blame for the spread of the virus whilst making sure any surge in infections does not happen at a time when racing resumes,
  • looking after the source of the horses – owners and breeders,
  • looking at a meaningful way of funding racing in future, devoid of sychophancy and self-preservation which colours rational thought,

Racing must be part of the recovery of this nation – the resumption of social events, the inclusion of spectators, the excitiment of sport.  Racing has it all but sometimes it is woefully inadequate at taking full advantage of that fact.  Racing must resonate with the public and remember that it is the public, be they owners, breeders, punters or good-time race-goers that need to be taken along on this incredible journey; showing why the sport is the 2nd highest watched sport in the country – because it is in tune with the public and reflects, albeit through a different lens, the reality of social life in a country in pain.

 

Empathy? Not from GoffsUK!

To be clear, this is not about avoiding liabilities but simply to show the lack of empathy which can occur from those who would have the racing industry believe they are the paragon of support and empathy in these difficult times for all horsemen.   Indeed in order that I feel able to post this blog, I have actually paid the invoice IN FULL as I think it important to be able to make comments without feeling beholden, or indeed threatened,  through debt.

So to be clear, this debt is from before the Covid-19 outbreak, but the timing of the demand for payment, and the tactics used today are not.

At a time when many breeders are giving up, when racing and therefore breeding is in suspended animation, and the subsequent sale of any horses will be done in a climate of (hopeful) recovery but where the market is even more likely to see great pedigrees sold at cut prices, and those at the “lower” end even more unlikely to sell at all, I have received an email from Goffs UK reminding me of my debt and the requirement to pay it “as soon as possible”.   I would add that my other business is also unable to trade due to the global crisis we face, and that my debtors are unable to pay any of their invoices due for the same reasons.  We are all awaiting whatever bail out funds there may be, but using whatever means to survive in the meantime.  Additionally you may have seen that I have been recovering myself from the virus, and my wife looks to be starting it.  But we are all in this together and to add stress by sending demands for payment is hardly helpful or well timed to anyone.

I received an email from Goffs UK Accounts Dept. today (27th March) asking me to pay an outstanding invoice for sales fees.  The fees were due for entries made at the end of 2018, for the Autumn yearling sale which took place at Doncaster.  You will recall the yearling element had a 46% clearance rate and a median sale price of £3000.  40 of the lots are listed as being purchased by VENDOR – meaning that the statistics do not actually reflect the reality, and which for those of us that were there, consisted of nothing more than a social get-together.   Click for stats page   We sold nothing but spent over £700 in additional expenses to attend (Hotel, transport, food, vets etc). Not, of course, that that is Goffs fault – although it is a cost which sales companies fail to factor in sometimes.

I had already been threatened with legal action for posting these statistics at the time, and asking if consignors should really be paying high fees to enter a sale attended by so very few buyers.   In mediation, Goffs agreed to waive 50% of the fees in February/ March 2019 and I in turn agreed to take the Tweet down.  I also explained that until the horses were sold or otherwise disposed of, I would not be in a position to pay.  We still have two of the 3 horses with us, and the one we did subsequently sell at the HIT sales in 2019 realised £53 in commision which has been credited to the account.  One of the horses, whilst accruing sales fees, was unable to attend the sale due to an injury which meant it could not be sold subsequently.

On receipt of the email today, I asked on Twitter if this was the right time to be sending out reminders, having first responded to Goffs in a similar manner and received, at the time, no reply.  Within 3 minutes of posting I had a Goffs director on the phone demanding I take the post down – which I agreed to immediately, but at the same time voiced my concerns as to the timing of the email.  It seems that whilst Goffs are keen to protect their public image, they are just as keen to threaten their customers into submitting to their demands.

I have subsequently received a number of text messages from Mr. Kent – the last one claiming I have disregarded his subsequent calls.  The fact is, I was actually trying to borrow the money to pay him and was unable to answer his call – but in line with the aggressive stance taken, his assumption is I was being rude!  In turn he has also said “you are still breeding horses so there must be some funds”.  Well Mr. Kent as you will likely know, horses are in foal for 11 months.  Therefore at the time of the new invoice being prepared the mares were being covered.  I had deals which allowed us to cover for next to nothing, or on extended terms to alleviate cashflow issues. I have also very publicly made it clear that we are NO LONGER breeding after the current foals are born as we can no longer afford the costs v. minimal benefits.

To be fair to all my suppliers I am trying not to go into liquidation in order that they will get paid at least something.  We are currently buying everyting on a “as funds allow” basis rather than building additional credit debt.    However, if some suppliers insist on full and immediate payment, we will be unable to pay anyone, will enter administration and therefore everybody loses out. The £837 paid out today will, obviously, adversely affect this and will hasten the actions we were hoping to avoid.

In the last few days we have seen businesses celebrated for their stance in these worrying times.  We have also seen businesses completely misjudge their approach and as a result they will undoubtedly (perhaps hopefully) suffer in future.  All I do know is that this is an industry that we were once proud to be part of, but with every passing day, the actions of some means our decision to stop is vindicated.

 

Syndicates offer real hope for breeders but…..

I have written a number of times in the past about the importance that increased ownership through syndication offers to the horse racing industry.  There are very few, if any, other sports where for a fairly modest sum you can own a sports team, and decide in a meaningful way, the strategy that team takes.  With cost of wages, feed and property rising, the cost of keeping a horse in training grows yearly.  Meanwhile, even with a good winning horse, owners stand to make less than 12p in the pound back through prize money.  The fun of the social occasion, particularly in a syndicate, goes some way to adding a much needed dimension to a loss making past-time.  Let us not forget that Coolmore are a syndicate, and we are increasingly seeing Darley enter into shared ownership.  If these titans of the racing world have to share their costs, then it is the only way racing can hope to get new owners into the sport.

A vast majority of syndicates offer good value as well as in-depth experiences at training

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Syndicates offer great ownership opportunities

yards and at the races.  The public must feel that if they wish to become part of the sport, their investment is protected – even if winning is not a guarantee.  For this reason, the need for a licensed, secure set of standards is required to protect members, as well as ensuring that EVERY person with an interest in a horse is known to the authorities to avoid allowing those who would otherwise be barred from ownership from having an influence.

From a breeder’s viewpoint, a larger potential market for their horses has to be welcomed.  However, with the rise in syndicates comes an influx of owners who do not perhaps understand that horses need time, and  horseracing is not for those looking for instant gratification.  It must be extremely difficult, if not almost impossible for a syndicate to purchase a yearling at the sales, find shareholders to finance the enterprise, and then expect those owners to keep paying for maybe 2 or even 3 years more until the horse has its first race.

For this reason, many syndicates, and indeed many sole owners, are looking for early type 2 year olds – and as such the demand dictates that the pedigrees used are from 2yo winning parents.  Purchasing a proven older horse is an option, but the recovery of upfront costs PLUS a monthly fee is sometimes not possible.  With demand for “cheap, quick speed” not only is the gene pool contracting, but horses winning over medium distances are written off or stand as jump stallions.  Likewise mares of foals who won at 3 or 4 are discounted due to their belated race success.   It would be unfair to blame syndicates entirely for this, and many of them have very patient and knowledgable managers and members.  However, at the point of purchase, the horse that ticks all the “quick speed” boxes is preferred to the slow burner.

Breeders in many cases are having to give horses away in order to get them onto the track and out of their congested paddocks when their latest crop do not fulfill all the requirements of price and precocity, even if they are perfect specimens with real

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Coolmore are perhaps the most successful syndicate in history.  They may also be responsible for some of the polarisation in breeding.

potential on the race course – although not immediately.  This is not sustainable and, as we see on a weekly basis, breeders are stopping either for a year or two in the hope the market rights itself, or for good.  A major consideration has to be welfare also. Breeders MUST ensure they breed from mares with some potential in the market.  This is the one control they have given that even the most vaunted stallion can become out of fashion by the time the produce of a mating is ready to sell.  It is sad that for many breeders, the wish to maintain certain breeding lines (and therefore the depth of the gene pool) is potentially sacrificed for the more certainty a range of inter-bred stallions bring to their calculations.  And many small breeders do not have the luxury of off-setting losses against gains when they only have 1 or 2 mares, or of racing the stock themselves.

With an expectation that horses will race sooner rather than later – and win – the potential number of horses thrown on the scrap heap before they have had chance to prove themselves could be massive.  And a free or cheap horse, like any animal, has the potential to be seen as a throwaway commodity.  I defy anyone to find a pedigree dog for sale for anything less than £700, much for this reason.

All potential owners must realise that it takes 4 years from retirement  for a mare to produce her first runner.  Even with that, the mare will not actually make a

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Time and patience are required – it takes 4 years from cover to race course

name for herself unless she consistently produces winners – even then that is no guarantee of demand for her offspring.  Therefore, when buying a horse, you are not just buying that animal, but all the time it has taken to build up to it, the upkeep of the stud it came from, the staff and feed costs, vet costs and transport.  Many breeders, like owners, do not have their own facilities.  This adds to costs, and potentially to welfare issues also, particularly when damage limitation is required to stop on-going costs.

Yes, the prize money is an issue, but so is the polarisation of the bloodlines, and the expectation that good horses come cheap.  As the trend continues, we are likely to see a contraction in the number of horses available for sale, as breeders give up, and races with lower entries, lower betting income and therefore lower prize money lead to a lack of interest from owners.  Racing will then be for the elite and reliant on a match-race type prize pool – perhaps that was all it ever was supposed to be, and our belief it can be a sport for all is a pipe dream.  We have seen the demise of the artisan, small producer on our high streets – we must not see the same in our breeding sheds, otherwise we will see an Epsom Derby of the future raced between horses interbred to the same sire, out of mares who too share the same genes – and jockeys all wearing one of two shades of blue!

Welfare – Sometimes it’s cruel to be kind

Anyone who has seen the reports of the mistreatment of racehorses in Australia lately will be sickened by them.  If you have seen the ABC documentary, then you will have done so through tears as I did.

My first reaction to the documentary was that whatever happens in one jurisdiction of racing has the effect of tarring us all with the same brush.  My next was to then consider

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Elegant Joan – enjoying life at the Northern Racing College after retirement

the other areas of welfare facing Australia at present including the use of electric prods or “jiggers” which has led to the banning, sadly only temporarily, of a number of high profile trainers.  I then returned to my first reaction and could almost feel the dark hand of animal welfare campaigners squeezing around the neck of racing here in the UK.

As you may know, I lived in Australia and visit there regularly.  Like in the UK, the immediate reaction to the “anti’s” is to say “just visit the races and the yards and you will see these horses are treated like royalty”.  And, like in the UK, when you do exactly that you will see horses which are indeed better cared for than any other domestic animal.  However, that is not the same as addressing what have to be genuine concerns around horses which are not in training.  Whilst the vast majority of horses are well treated, we will all know of instances where they are not, and indeed if we had a guaranteed and humane way of managing thoroughbreds outside racing, then we would not hear the desperate cries for funds from the rehoming charities.  I am lucky as we have capacity to rehome, or help to rehome, those horses we breed – many are not.

With regard to those that would mis-treat horses when in training, there are regualtory methods of dealing with these people, but, as in Australia, bans tend to be for fixed periods of time, and the perpetrators tend to be allowed back into the fold.   This is unacceptable.  Also, there may be instances where perpetrators are asked to leave their employer, rather than reporting them, for reputational reasons.  This is understandable in a competitive industry where reputation is everything, but also solves nothing in welfare terms.

The fact that a tool is used to inflict pain upon a racehorse, or any animal, is dependant upon the person wielding that tool and their attitude to animals (and by extension people).  Just because a “jigger” has not been found in racing over in the UK for a long period now does not mean that cruelty inflicted upon horses is less or more acceptable here.  If you can use a “jigger” then you can use a stick or barbed wire or anything else that comes to hand – it is in the psychological make up of a person to be cruel and if they are, then they have no place in racing EVER AGAIN!

The Australian documentary claimed that 3000 racehorses were processed through abbatoirs.  Whilst the scenes of abuse are terrible to watch and need to be punished severely, the fact that some horses end up in an abbatoir is not necessarily the cruellest end.  The Princess Royal has long advocated the normalisation of horses being placed

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The ability to track a horse from birth to death is key to better welfare

into the food chain, and in some cases this should apply to the thoroughbred racehorse.  We used to hear much about the shooting of bull calves, or the use of veal crates, and were rightly alarmed.  in response, the UK farmers built a demand for “red veal” and not only improved the welfare of bull calves, but made them a valuable commodity.  Whilst I do not propose we all eat our horses, there is an argument for making more of this potential market and, by default, increasing the likelihood of better oversight and welfare standards within abbatoirs.  If the UK government is eventually able to ban live exports, then horse owners may feel more inclined to send their retired horse to a table on the continent than they are now.  Certainly the pictures of live horses travelling to Europe for slaughter is not something we can allow to continue.  A final point on this; I know of trainers in the past (and perhaps even today) who would rather take a retired racer out of the stable and stand with it as it is shot for the hunt than allow it an uncertain retirement.  On first hearing of this, I recoiled at the thought, but then I understood that perhaps that is the greatest tribute the horse could be given by a person who felt they could no longer guarantee the life it was used to.

If we want to tackle welfare, we must embrace the whole life of our horses.  We can prove how well the horses at the races or at an open day are looked after – although for some this will still not overcome their prejudice.  The issue we must face is what we do from birth to death.   We must start by increasing the value of our horses through breeding.  We cannot allow people to buy a horse for less than the cost of attending an auction, let alone producing it.  If you sell cheap then the buyer sees the horse as a commodity to be tried, and cast aside.  If we sell in desperation then we should not continue breeding – that is bad business.  Bloodstock agents and auctioneers can assist by increasing the minimum selling price and refusing to be part of a deal where the price is less than that of the published covering fee of a horse.  It sounds harsh but if a breeder’s fields are full of unsold horses then there is a reason for it, and it might stop them keep breeding!

Additionally, all horses should be traceable from birth until death.  I lie awake at night worrying about some of the horses we have bred and I have lost track of.  If certain countries cannot implement that requirement at least for horses registered in the UK and Ireland, then we cannot sell to them and neither can they benefit from our bloodstock – simple!  I can hear voices of concern, but we have a moral duty.  We cannot adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude.  If this is adopted internationally as with most racing regualtions, then any concerns of losing a market share are overcome.

Next, owners and trainers must have an end game plan.  If this means a monthly levy which pays for the retirement of the horse, then this is one method.  Alternatively, as mentioned above, a humane disposal regime may be the only way for some.  Certainly the rise of syndicates means that many owners live in urban areas and certainly do not have the means or knowledge to home a retiree.  It may be one of the reasons we see the welfare issue in Australia, where syndication is commonplace.

Welfare is not a soft and fluffy subject.  It requires hard decisions and firm application.  We hear voices from inside racing about not bowing to the protests.  I agree when these protests are based on false misconceptions or blind ignorance, but this is not the case here.  This is about a moral code of conduct for all who really love racing.    We owe it to our staff and to our sport but above everything else, we owe it to our horses!

 

Syndicates – Is it time for proper regulation?

There is no denying that the advent of syndicates has had a massive, beneficial effect on horseracing both here in the UK and elsewhere.  Those who follow my musings on here will know that my support for them, and any means we can find to introduce new people to the joys of racehorse ownership, is something I have long supported.  A well run, accountable syndicate is fantastic for all concerned and I do not wish to give the impression that issues are widespread in this part of the racing industry – they are not!  We are lucky to have a majority of honest syndicate managers but they can be cruelly tarred with the wrong brush because of the unscrupulous and poorly regulated activities of a few.

Never a day goes by without a syndicate winning a race in the UK, with some regularly featuring in Group races.  The chance that a well run syndicate or racing club offers to its syndicate examplemembers to reach the highest levels of racing for affordable sums has to be welcomed, and has certainly given a new market to breeders who can now offer horses to a wider pool of buyers or even lease horses in order to gain the benefits of race results, whilst reducing the outlay to syndicate and club members in buying horses in the first place.

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The RSA is a welcome, albeit self-regulated, part of syndication

Of course, in previous times, syndicates and clubs tended to be partnerships between exisiting owners, close family, established business partners or run by newspapers (Daily Mirror Racing Club for example) or other established agencies.  However with the relaxation of qualifying criteria by the BHA a few years ago, and the abundance of horses at the lower end of the sales spectrum, this is no longer always the case.  As a result total strangers can now become partners in a horse, marketing on social media allows syndicates to fairly easily reach mass markets and to offer what appear to be, in the majority, excellent deals.  The only issue is that the framework seems to be missing vital protections for many people involved in the process:

Members – they are asked to pay a fee either as a lump sum or on-going monthly payments – some both.  This may include actually owning a part of the horse or it can be just a lease basis where they pay the training and other fees but never own the horse.  This was the case famously with Rock of Gibraltar at Coolmore and Motivator and the Royal Ascot Racing Club – both of which ended with unhappy partners.

Syndicate / Club Managers – they are required to perhaps carry the cost of the horse until the shares are sold and may find that they are left with uncovered debts in the event that members cannot be found or fail to pay their dues.  Of course they can use syndicates to finance their own racing apsirations and, in some cases, run the horse under their own name and fail to inform the authorities of any other involvements.  That demands a high level of trust from members, and from the BHA with their integrity concerns.  Worse still they are entrusted with other people’s money with no requirement to provide accounts to the BHA, and only annually (based on BHA / ROA best practice) to members.

Trainers – they have to provide training for a horse where they know all the shares are not sold and therefore may have to give a discount as a result.  They may decide to take a part of the horse to ease the burden.  And if it all goes wrong, whilst the BHA provides for such eventualities, it can take a number of months with mounting costs to resolve,

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Rebecca Menzies was forced to take control after the failure of EPDS – a move which saved members the loss of money – but should it be down to trainers to sort this?

and if the trainer then sells the horse as is his or her right, they can be accused of robbing the membership of their horse.  The well documented cases recently of this happening such as EPDS Racing in June 2019 serve testament to this.

Breeders – they sometimes lease their horses, may  reduce the selling price or on a “no win – no fee” sale basis, or may even give surplus stock away to new syndicates to help them start up and to reduce holdings of unsold, well bred stock.  If that goes wrong then they have a horse that never races and may even be returned in the event of syndicate failure – an unproven, older and unsellable mouth to feed.

If you visit the BHA or ROA websites you can download draft syndicate agreements.  These seem at first sight to be ideal for purpose, but they refer to areas of ownership and regulation which some syndicate managers and members do not understand.  I know from experience that when a dispute is raised with the BHA over ownership issues, they simply tell the parties to go to court as they are not interested.  Certainly the syndicate manager / senior partners have to be registered owners, but this can be circumvented fairly easily by using a proxy to “keep the costs down”.

In a recent case a breeder had attended the sales in September 2018 with a well bred yearling colt which failed to sell.  Left with fields full of mares and fillies, the breeder contacted a trainer and asked if he would take the horse and either sell it to existing owners or perhaps offer it to a syndicate so as to reduce purchase costs and allow affordable ownership to its members.  In the meantime the breeder agreed to pay a small “keep fee” to cover feed and stables, and, in the event of a sale they could either recoup that cost from the sale or, as in this case, simply retain a small percentage of the horse to race.  After all it would assist any syndicate to know that at least some of the shares were already taken.  The horse would then run as “X Syndicate & Partners” with the breeder remaining separate to the syndicate financially but in partnership with it.

Early in 2019 the trainer was approached by an individual looking to set up a syndicate, and of course the horse in question was ideal for this.  My understanding is that the trainer agreed to reduce training fees for a short period to allow shares to be sold and retain whatever shares were still left until they were sold if required to do so.  Obviously the longer the shares went unsold, the more the trainer invested of his own time and money and as such a “premium” was agreed whereby there was a small intial fee to cover the transfer of the shareholding to the new member (and reimburse the trainer) whilst the new member would then pay a small monthly all-inclusive fee to the syndicate for training etc.  The breeder was not aware of any of this and indeed did not need to be given his share would not be part of the syndicate anyway.

Early in July, alarm bells rang when the trainer contacted the breeder to say he did not know what to do with the horse as the training fees were not paid by the syndicate.  Certainly he had received some fees but with a horse in training now for 6 months, the costs were mounting and the syndicate had not updated him with the amount of shares sold.   Furthermore, a social event in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund had been organised by the syndicate manager,  held in June and a donation of around £900 had been raised.  The event was also used as a members’ social event and marketing opportunity to attract new shareholders.  The trainer had contacted the IJF to see if that money had been paid to them, and it had not.

Next, the syndicate manager contacted the members and said he could no longer run the syndicate and volunteered the breeder to run the syndicate.  Obviously this was a unilateral decision by the syndicate manager, but the breeder, left with little other options, asked the syndicate manager to forward details of ownership shares, funds paid etc. in order that the necessary due diligence could be carried out and a decision made by the breeder if they would take the syndicate over.  As you may already have guessed, all of a sudden this information was not forthcoming.  Furthermore, the syndicate manager contacted the members, who by now were rightly feeling that there was a scam going on, and said that the breeder and the trainer had somehow planned it all and that he, as well as them, were victims of a pre-planned conspiracy – even posting such on social media.

To be clear, the trainer is a very successful Group winning professional of the highest integrity and the breeder had simply given a horse away and kept a small interest in order to, at the very least, ensure the horse was fed and cared for until a buyer could be secured, and for which he had no expectation of a fee.  Additionally, save for attending an owners’ day in April 2019, the breeder had no other contact with the syndicate and had received no money or benefits from anyone in the deal.

The circumstances in this case show how an unscrupulous syndicate manager can not only receive thousands of pounds from people with little or no understanding of the BHA requirements or regulations around syndication, but as a result can dupe them into thinking none of it is his fault and that rather than giving them a copy of the accounts to assess, instead is trying to say 2 other parties with far more to lose than could ever be gained, should be questioned and asked to account for the money – despite having never received any of the money he so cruelly duped from the members and witheld from the IJF.

As discussed at length by many in the racing community in June when EPDS collapsed, it is surely time to ensure such group ownerships are properly registered and administered, have a base-line financial deposit scheme (trainers after all have to show a £40K available cash fund to be licensed), and there is recourse for all parties in the event of failure or wrong-doing.  Syndicates are vital to the future of racing and ALL concerned deserve the protection and reassurance such requirments would offer.  Exisiting syndicates and racing clubs, run by professionals of the highest integrity have nothing to fear, and new syndicates and members can feel they are joining a well managed and financially protected agreement.

 

Hidden Gems – Your next star 2 year old may not be at the auction.

It’s currently around 33 degrees outside and the horses are all lazily stood in the shade, swatting flies away with their tails, or grooming one another.  It does not seem possible that many of them are racing thoroughbreds who have, or hopefully will, won numerous races for their owners – they move slowly, if at all, in an attempt to relieve the heat.  All very sedate for them, but not so for the team here at Abacus Bloodstock.

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Yearling Prep now underway 

 

This time of year we can generally leave all the horses out due to the weather; which means its time to catch up on the painting and repairs needed to keep our little part of the world, and the horses who live in it, as well kept as possible.

On top of this is the yearling preparation – all fillies this year and all amongst the best we have bred from a potential race winner viewpoint.  The visit from Goffs to assess the entries this year resulted in two of the fillies being accepted in the Silver Sale with the other two always destined to go straight to racing – one as she is owned by a client, and the other as she will replace her dam Littlemore Lass who we sadly lost last year.

What is sad is that the two sale fillies could, in the opinion of the auctioneer, have been Premier yearlings but for their sires and the likely interest that would generate – or not.  One is by a Group winning son of Dark Angel and the other a Group 1 winner who

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Garswood – Group winners not enough to make him fashionable!

produced 2 Group winners in his first crop, but who, in only his second crop, seems to have been written off already!  One of the fillies is by a 2yo winning mare who has produced the winners of 15 races in the UK and Europe and yet we have decided it is not viable to send them to the sales as, after fees, transport, staff, hotels etc. we would be unlikely to see any profit.

As a result, we are able to sell these fillies at a very reasonable price privately (please click here to visit our sale pages if you are interested) but it is a sad reflection that such high class, proven pedigrees seem to be so out of fashion.  However, that also means that there are some real gems to be found through private sales as many of them will not be offered at auction due to these market pressures on breeders. 

The days of the small breeder, not to mention the diverse pedigree, seems to be rapidly

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Hidden gems to be found through private sales.

disappearing.  This will inevitably lead to poorer racing and less access for new owners.  Sadly it will, and in many cases has already, led to the closure of studs and the loss of jobs and skills from the industry.  Once gone, they will be hard, if not impossible to replace.  Good luck to all us small breeders who strive to keep going – the support of owners and trainers is so important for the future of racing and for the jobs and businesses which rely on it in all areas of the sport.  And if you are looking for a well bred, athletic youngster be aware, the best of them may not be at the auction!

ROA Election – Let Me Be Your Voice

In a few days, ROA members should be receiving the voting forms for the upcoming Racehorse Owners Association Executive Committee election.  You will also receive a copy of the Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder, in which you will see my advertisement (below).Ad pic

In the advert, I set out the points of my manifesto, and you can read more about these in the ROA candidate booklet too.  However, I wanted to contact ROA members and a wider audience in the hope of further explaining why I am standing, and my key aims if I am privileged enough to be elected as your representative.

Prize-money

For many owners, this is a key concern, and therefore likely to be a key promise by candidates.  However, simply saying that prize money should be raised is both naive and impossible, without looking at funding, distribution and revisiting the race program.

Those of you that have read my previous blogs will have seen my detailed study of prize money distribution (click here to see it).  Suffice to say, the vast majority of races not only receive the least proportion of the prize fund, but they also provide  the income for most of the fund in the first place.  This cannot be fair and therefore this distribution needs to be more fairly delivered.  That said, the prize fund is not bottomless, and may indeed be due to shrink in the next year or so if nothing is done to overcome the likely loss of income due to the closure of betting shops.

To combat this, we need to first look at the betting market.  The BHA data shows the average field size in all racing is 8.  That means that about 50% of races have less runners than this.  Eight runners is the threshold at which the each way betting market pays out on the top 3 places.  Therefore, if the field sizes increase, then we should see improved each way markets, and as such, increased bets being placed.  Larger fields also attract better returns for racecourses and give the watching public more of a spectacle to watch.  This, in turn, will increase the likelihood that racecourses will offer prize money at such levels as to ensure the levy unlock, and as a result, owners will receive prize money down to the minor places.  I aim to ensure this part of the funding is retained, protected and expanded in future in the hope that owners can at least realise a level of appearance money.

As many readers will be aware, there have been plans to introduce city racing and a Super League team based competition.  Prize money in excess of £100K is promised for every race!  One has to ask, if this kind of funding can be found for races which do not even exist in the race program, then why can why not generate such sponsorship for races which already exist and have a depth and history unique to British racing?  There are many such examples, which, if those who would design new types of racing are to be believed, could attract all of this sponsorship money more readily and pay out the same, if not higher levels of prize-money, allowing the funding from the levy to be diverted to the lower levels of the sport.  We are seeing the highest levels of prize money ever, yet this is not reflected in the prize money paid in most races – which has to be the result of a poorly planned race program.

The Race Program

This brings me to the race program itself.  You only have to look at some of the fields for races, particularly in NH, to see that the numbers of races, now larger than at any time in history, is reducing the number of runners.  This is through increased demand to supply any type of racing into the betting shops, and so increase TV rights fees, never mind the quality.  One only has to try to juggle with split screens and delayed highlights of races to see that quantity is all and quality is secondary.  By quality, I do not mean they all need to be class 3 and above, but I mean competitive races, with a wide field and therefore a healthy betting market – at whatever level.  The introduction of these “gimmick” events mentioned above will only serve to rip the program into shreds, and, heaven forbid, set up some kind of league based racing system.  The whole attraction of racing is that the program allows an owner with a horse to aspire to win the best races – whilst any kind of separation by leagues or competition would build glass ceilings and restrict the chances of horses, and their owners, to aspire to greatness.  Without dreams, this sport, as an owner, offers little other reward.

The introduction of such a model has indeed brought great riches in other sports – to a select few, but many more have suffered from an inability to compete.  You only have to look at the FA Cup in football.  We are told any team can win, but in reality, the final is inevitably between premier league teams, and the richest of those invariably wins the day.  That is not something we should strive for in racing, but it is something we are at risk of seeing in the current direction of travel.

Prize Money & The Race Program are inextricably linked to the future of the thoroughbred as well as to the sport.

As a breeder as well as an owner, the program and the funding of it, is imperative to the survival of studs and to the thoroughbred racehorse.  Trade at the sales for all but the very highest level of horses has been poor of late.  Most breeders are small operators and happy to breed to less fashionable stallions.  This not only retains the

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BHA Statistics show that 80% of races (ie. Cl4 and below) earn only 35% of the prize fund – this cannot be right or fair!

depth of the gene pool, but offers a market for horses to the majority of owners who do not have the 6 or 7 figure budgets of the large racing operations.  It is important then that the majority of owners, racing in the majority of races (80% of races are at class 4 and below), can hope to win decent prize-money and ensure this part of the industry is thriving at the sales.  It is this level, after all that is not just the grass-roots, but also the foundation, of all racing in the UK for without them, over 80% of the funding for prizes would not be found.  Which brings us back to the original point – that prize money should be more fairly distributed.  For more on this see my previous blog by clicking here

In order to make racing even more popular, it needs to attract the public not through alcohol fuelled betting, but by showing how it is part of the history and fabric of society.  Flooding the program with races which, either through timing or the race conditions, see match races and low field numbers, will not attract spectators.  By projecting racing as a story of endeavour and hope, whilst making things like the Jockey Championship more relevant by reflecting the whole season, rather than a limited part of it, will bring racing back more firmly into the public perception.  We all became owners following an introduction to the sport so we need to ensure this continues, in order to ensure new owners join in.

Welfare

The ROA, together with the other Horsemen Group members, works with the BHA to ensure the welfare of our horses is paramount.  There are some that say that by discussing it in the industry, we are enabling those that would have this sport banned.   The fact is, we are not telling them anything they do not already know – or should I say think they know.  There is a diminishing return in countering their arguments with pictures of horses being well cared for by their trainers and grooms – because the “antis” have made their minds up and whatever we show is the “exception” rather than the rule in their minds.  And of course when a horse is injured on the track, they shout that the reason we do care for the horses is through a sense of guilt and we do it to assuage ourselves of the underlying fact that we send our horses out to die every time they race – or worse still, cast them aside to the vivisectionists!  We should not rise to these lies, but instead prove them wrong.  (Click here to see my previous blog on this issue)

The approach that the BHA and the ROA need to take is not to defend against those who would not listen, but to confront their lies with facts and talk to the general public.  This will mean perhaps better data collection from those as yet not compelled to collect it (breeders, trainers, vets etc.) as we look at contributory factors to injury and other issues such as diets from birth, medical care, training regimes etc.  That said, we have a high level of data already, added to the excellent initiatives around rehoming, retraining and general welfare which is at the centre of this sport. We should not even aim these facts at those who have already made up their minds, but at the public who only ever see the reaction and propaganda in the 1 or 2 days after Aintree or Cheltenham, and do not understand that racing offers horses the best chance of a healthy and happy life, when compared to the many other horses across the UK who suffer injury and abuse.   As a member of the ROA Executive I will work to dispel the myths and build on the facts.

In Conclusion

Since entering into ownership, both in syndicates and as an individual owner,  and breeding horses through Abacus Bloodstock, I have always tried to spread the joy of being involved in this sport.  It is an industry in as much as we need to break even in the production of the horse, and we need to give owners a fighting chance, with a half decent horse, that they will cover at least some of their training fees.  However it is also the only sport where anyone, with any budget, can be part of a top flight sports team.  This is not possible in any other sport.  As an owner you can turn up with a horse for which you pay £100 per month and compete against Godolphin or Coolmore on equal terms.  I will never forget going to Lingfield Park with a horse I was given – only to beat a $450K import from America, ridden by Dettori, or going to Royal Ascot with a horse we bred, and seeing him lead home his side of the field (as ever the speed, and the winner, was on the other side!).  That is horse racing – that is what I want to share with people, be they existing owners, or twice a year punters.  Owners provide the most pivotal role in this wonderful sport and that is why I implore you to let me be your voice in the ROA elections.

Welfare – Don’t shoot the messenger, front it out!

chelt19After a week of some of the very best NH racing in many years at Cheltenham, particularly in my view on the Thursday, it is sad to see that the over-riding echo at the end of it all is horse welfare.

The deaths of three horses at the festival is without doubt very distressing, made all the more poignant by the obvious sadness and emotion displayed by the trainers, owners and stable staff.  For all of those claiming a deep rooted welfare issue in the sport, the reaction of those closest to these horses must surely refute those unfounded and untrue charges.

Sadly, however, racing is an easy target.  As Nick Rust from the BHA said only today on TV, we cannot have a 100% fatality free sport.  The only way to ensure that is to stop racing altogether – an aim for many anti-racing organisations, with publicly recognised

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Joseph O’Brien & Sir Erec

animal welfare organisations amongst them.  It is easy to say that the fatality rate in horses is low (0.022% from recent figures), and that it is falling further, but the fact is that when a horse dies in a televised race, watched by millions, it will have a negative effect on racing.  We cannot as an industry bury our heads in the sand on that, or claim that those who protest loudly know nothing about racing.   After all, it is exactly those people new to racing who we must be attracting in order to maintain and grow the sport.

I have read some very disparaging comments about the BHA and Mr. Rust specifically today.  The fact is, he is right.  We cannot pretend that we have welfare at the heart of all we do and leave it at that.  We must educate, we must engage and we must be seen to be doing something – most particularly for those with the loudest anti-racing voices.  In short we must “front it out”.

ITV Racing has to be saluted for the openness they show when horses go down injured.  If not during broadcast, they will inevitably update on social media – the good and the bad.  They provide the ideal, and potentially only, public platform to educate and inform.  They do so without the need to sensationalise like the written press, to sell newspapers.

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An example of the emotive headlines seen this week

Despite the time lag between racing finishing, and the printed newspapers being circulated, this search for headlines inevitably prevents any follow-up research from being done by journalists who, sadly, know little if anything about racing.  This is of course because, despite the sport being the second most followed after football, the number of papers covering racing from an editorial viewpoint is tiny, and reducing every year.  Those journalists that lived racing and understood it are a dying breed – replaced by headline seekers.  The Racing Post, superb for racing in many ways, cannot do this as it is a “trade” paper preaching to the converted already in most cases.

This surely means that having accessible and informative data out in the public domain is needed.  Not just statistics, but real stories depicting the care of horses, the veterinary advances, the life of a racehorse compared to other horses (and the positive comparisons that will show up).  The industry has published a number of good videos about this, and once again, ITV Racing and the satellite channels do features on all aspects of a racehorses care and lifestyle – albeit, in the case of the latter to those who already have an understanding.  Great advances have been made through procedures on

raceday, redesign of fences, retraining and aftercare of retired horses.  Of course there is only so much we can do, but what we do should be contrasted with the plight of horses elsewhere in the general population.  Far more horses die in a field for the want of even a small proportion of the attention and care afforded to thoroughbred racehorses.

We must broaden the appeal and accessibility of racing to the public – facing up to the negative and working to show the positives.  Otherwise the only experience that the general public get of racing is when they see stories of deaths or injuries in the news – hardly an attractive prospect for a day out.  Like it or not, the vast majority of the public do not understand or even follow racing.  If the only news they get is negative, backed up by spurious claims from organisations that would do better to concentrate on real areas of abuse and cruelty,  then this is their lasting and only impression of racing.  When it comes to a vote therefore, the party that panders to these perceptions wins, and then, as we saw only a few months from the select committee, racing will be unable to save itself.

I, like many others, who have lived with horses from foals to retirees, always remember the ones we lose.  Not through guilt but because we loved them and we miss them, and we wish it could have been different – comforted in the knowledge that we could not have given them a better life while we had them.  And that is nothing to be ashamed of – it is something to publicly celebrate.