Changing Times

Changing Times

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Weatherbys wonderful but fewer forms would be helpful

ONE thing that comes from no longer being a jockey is having more time to properly watch the racing on TV. An item that interested me, and I know interested my secretary Rose Osborn, was the insight into the workings of Weatherbys that Channel 4 broadcast during Glorious Goodwood.

Any of you reading this who earn a direct living out of the sport or own a decent chunk of a horse will be well aware of Weatherbys, racing's official administrator, whose history in the industry is long and whose roles are numerous.

The Channel 4 feature made it obvious how big its job in racing has become. It was also clear it has some talented people working for it.

I had a chance to get that sort of insight close-up when I was doing my new trainer's course. We went to its Wellingborough headquarters and found it a very rewarding thing to do. Just walking around Weatherbys was a fascinating experience. You can research information on pedigrees going back to the year dot. You really are surrounded by centuries of racing and bloodstock history.

Racing does, of course, have to think about its future as well as its past. For trainers, that means persuading new owners to buy new horses. Once you've done that Weatherbysbecomes involved - as does an awful lot of paperwork.

It's important to stress this paperwork comes with a BHA logo on it. Weatherbys does the job on contract from the BHA. As such, any complaints about the current system have to be directed at not just Weatherbys but the BHA as well.

People don't have to fill in all the forms, but you might well face a sizeable selection of them.

Among the forms that have to be filled in is 'AA1 - Registration of Authority to Act - Licensed Trainer/ Permit Holder'. For VAT registration there's 'D1 - Racehorse Owner's Declaration, for use by Companies and Sole Proprietors', or 'D2 - Racehorse Owner's Declaration, for use by Racing Partnerships/Joint Registrations'.

There's also the J01 'joint-ownership form' and the RS1 'registration as an owner form', in which new owners also have to decide whether to have money coming into and out of aWeatherbys Bank account or through a BHA direct debit arrangement.

I know Weatherbys and the BHA are trying to make the process easier. That is to be welcomed.

If the initial contact with racing administration could be made less daunting and more understandable everyone would benefit. Once an owner is in the system Weatherbys tends to be seriously efficient and everything runs smoothly. The problems tend to come in the initial registration - and no two registrations are ever the same.

For most owners racing is supposed to be a hobby. Unfortunately, a fun pastime can occasionally seem more like a chore. If Weatherbys, which provides a marvellous service to the sport, can make it less of a chore we would be extremely grateful.

More evening meetings is not good news

IT SEEMS to me when fixture lists are put together the last people thought of are those responsible for the horses who provide the entertainment.

In 2017 there are 77 more evening meetings scheduled than was the case for 2016. There will also now be evening racing every Saturday. Neither piece of news will have led to much in the way of celebrating in racing yards.

We don't like evening racing, particularly on a Friday and Saturday, for a number of reasons.

Owners have to pay staff additional expenses if their horse runs at night. If lads gets back late they can't ride out first or second lot the next morning. Crucially, as well, most of my staff who travel with horses at the weekends are the ones who, in theory, should be enjoying their weekend off. That would apply to most yards.

I advise owners not to run on Friday evenings. It took me five hours to get to Newmarket last week. That's no fun for an owner.

There are too many evening meetings and too many meetings overall. Fields often fall apart because trainers can't afford to send just the one horse to some tracks. If it's too expensive to send one horse they don't send any.

Sometimes, however, the programme book will dictate we have to run on a Saturday night. The racecourses so keen to stage those fixtures should do more to make them attractive to owners. They could put in an extra £1,000 to every race. It's not so much that they necessarily need to do that or have to do that. It's more that they should do that.

Always an issue for jockeys but no need to take drastic action

IN RECENT months there has been plenty of focus on the wellbeing of jockeys, including on Wednesday, when the Racing Post ran a special report asking whether the minimum Flat riding weight should be increased.

Purely in terms of the way races are framed there are certainly ways in which the sport could help those Flat jockeys who struggle with the scales, of which I was one.

It must be ten years now since I asked the Professional Jockeys Association to do what they could to get weights in maiden races moved upwards. On a Monday we used to have to get down to 8st 9lb to ride a filly in a maiden. That didn't make sense. I'm pleased to say things are better now but there are still a number of conditions races, including Group contests, in which it would be helpful if the allocated weight of every horse was shoved up a few pounds.

Overall, though, my view would be racing has always been one of those sports in which certain people cannot take part because of their weight, and other people who manage to take part find it difficult to do so for the same reason. However, some sports are like that. Boxing is one. Racing is another.

Jockeys used to ride at six stone. We have evolved. Looking to the future, where now do you draw the line? If you can't do the weight on a horse in a handicap the solution is simple - you don't ride the horse. I never minded that I could never do less than 8st 8lb. There was nothing I could do about it. I couldn't ride Aidan O'Brien's best horses because he always had someone else riding them. There was nothing I could do about that, either.

I wasn't made to be a Flat jockey. I had a National Hunt pedigree but rode on the Flat because I wanted it more than anything else in the world. I knew my limits and so do today's jockeys. They're not idiots.

It's true horses do carry bigger weights on the gallops than they do on the racecourse. However, I wouldn't like any horse to be going fast at my yard carrying more than 11st. Also, at home you're not extending a horse. That's why horses bleed in races but not on the gallops. Their wind doesn't cut out at home but it does at the racecourse.

Every now and again this becomes a subject for debate and I can understand why. People calling for the weights to rise are doing so out of the best intentions. I'm far from certain, though, that drastic action is needed or that it would be greatly beneficial.