Tuesday, May 29, 2018
There has been much of interest to read in this week's Racing Post Horse Welfare series. However, for the second consecutive week I feel I have to write critical words about the BHA.
It was reported on Monday that the BHA could consider introducing a stand-down period for horses who have fallen if evidence from a statistical study makes it appear worthwhile.
My concern is that the BHA is tying itself in knots and needlessly introducing additional rules, as with the ban on icing horses I highlighted in last week's column. In fact, that rule already looks set to be amended to a restriction within a two-hour window before race time.
As trainers, we hope our owners trust us enough to let us use our expertise and knowledge in terms of where and when their horses run. I freely admit we won't always get it right – with hindsight I would not have run Satisfying at Windsor on Monday on ground that proved too quick for her – but in those circumstances you would hope the trainer would admit a mistake had been made.
Generally, it seems the BHA is less inclined to show the same trust as given to us by owners.
When you apply for a trainer's licence you have to go through a rigorous course. The aim is to make sure you are a proper horseman and a suitable person to be entrusted with the care of racehorses.
I'll be honest and say I had hoped I might be allowed to cut a few corners and miss some of the sessions, given I was a three-time champion jockey and had been brought up in a trainer's yard. Perhaps rightly, the BHA made it clear I would not be allowed to do that, which underlines how important it believes its own licensing course to be.
Surely, therefore, if the BHA has deemed a person fit to hold a licence, it also deems that person fit to know if a horse who has fallen on his or her previous outing is okay to run on a given day? If they feel they have to do something, why not require a horse to be trotted up before a vet when returning after a fall, as happens with those who have been lame.
Where do we draw the line?
What happens if a horse has a fall while schooling? What happens if a horse falls over in the yard at home? Does any new rule extend to those scenarios? If not, why not?
If we carry on with all these extreme precautions we might as well stop racing here and now.
The truth is there is pain associated with every sport. All athletes go through pain, be they human or equine. There is no point saying competing in sport doesn't hurt, because to a certain level it invariably does.
However, in a week in which we have been looking at horse welfare, I would argue the demands we place on thoroughbreds are far less than the demands placed on other members of the breed, such as those ploughing fields or attached to city carriages on hot summer days.
Consider, as an example, India, a country I know well having ridden there over many years.
It would be normal for a racehorse in India to spend three days travelling on a train. I once rode a horse in a Grade 1 who had to get from Mumbai to Calcutta and was forced to wait six hours on a platform in 35c heat before the train arrived. Horses in those situations still get to the other side of India and win.
It's also not a million years since horses in this part of the world regularly had to walk many miles to the racecourse. I even remember riding some of Dad's runners from home to the Curragh. That was very common.
What is not common now is having enough stable staff in a racing yard. That's where the real horse welfare problem lies.
You can argue horses were looked after better 25 years ago than they are now, simply because there were more people per horse then.
A groom used to be charged with tending to three horses every evening, spending about 40 minutes with each one. When I was serving my time that's what it was like. Now a groom will have responsibility for six, seven or eight horses. A horse used to be strapped, whereby you perform massage with big leather pads to generate blood flow. That doesn't happen any longer because it takes time and there aren't enough people to do it.
The situation is critical.
Trainers will often not have runners at some weekend meetings because they do not have enough available employees. The problem is exacerbated by the fact we only have a small pool available to us. The average height and weight of Britons now makes it hard for us to hire people from this country. We also need people with the right knowledge, as racing is a dangerous game.
I have been advertising for staff for the last month. No-one has answered. I know I'm not alone. We need the BHA to work harder to convince government that racing needs to be treated as a special case and that immigration barriers must be lifted.
Please don't misunderstand me. Horses are still well cared for in racing yards, where the staff are dedicated to looking after them with the attention and respect they deserve.
The problem, and it's a big one, is there are not enough of those staff. That, in itself, is a proper horse welfare issue.
I enjoyed a welcome surprise five years ago when winning the Oaks on Talent, a 20-1 outsider and stable second string.
It would be wrong to think the Oaks rides very differently to the Derby. The one difference is when you're on a filly you don't want to get into a barging match chasing a gap. On a robust colt you might drive hard for that gap, reasoning you can bounce the other horses off you. Aboard a more sensitive filly you would not be so aggressive, or if you were aggressive you would at least go into the manoeuvre aware of the possible consequences.
The pace of the Oaks would largely mirror that of the Derby. Sometimes they go quick, sometimes they go slow. I jumped off aboard Talent with the intention of making the running as she was quite free-going, but instead I ended up sitting last. That's racing. If you can't go the pace you can't go the pace.
What will be different compared to the Derby is much of the inside line will be protected for Saturday's racing, meaning the runners are forced wider around Tattenham Corner. For that reason you ideally want to sit as close to the fence as possible because the camber is easier to handle the closer you are to the rail.
As interesting as the Oaks will be, on Friday I'm particularly looking forward to seeing Cracksman in the Investec Coronation Cup. He is a horse I loved last year and I thought he was very impressive in the Ganay first time out this season.
I can guarantee you he would have been rusty at Longchamp as John Gosden will be training him for the Arc. The horse will have been just fit enough to win and I thought Frankie rode him that way. By the end of the year he will be at his peak, but he will surely be good enough to win this Coronation Cup, in which he will be helped by already having experience of Epsom, where he won last April before finishing third in the Derby.
Like chasers jumping the Grand National fences, some horses will be fine around Epsom once but won't be as effective if sent back. Others can thrive there time after time.
Horses who get a fright at Epsom won't want to return, while for a horse who starts to back off around the track it can become a horrendous experience as he or she will begin to slip. The simple truth is if you don't act around Epsom you don't win. We know Cracksman acts around Epsom and he really should win the Coronation Cup.
The Saturday action for Weathercock House starts at Chester.
Stall five is a good draw for Gold Filigree in the 6f fillies' handicap (2.20) and I'm hoping she'll be able to make the most of her excellent gate speed. She won well at Chelmsford and if she can get to the front she should run a big race.
— Richard Hughes (@RHughesracing) May 3, 2018
Nicola Currie, who is doing so well, won on her last time and rides again. However, the problem when a horse wins under a 5lb claimer as good as Nicola is if you then run the horse under a non-claiming jockey it feels as though you are immediately 5lb worse off, even without a ratings rise. I don't want to sound greedy, though, as it's great to be able to have the advantage of someone like Nicola taking weight off a horse's back.
Nicola also rode Soghan last time, although that was in an apprentice handicap. He ran a blinder that night at Ascot, getting the better of all the horses I thought he had to beat only for a 25-1 shot to pip the lot of them.
If we could run that race again I'd have had him going a bit faster because he stays so well. Having said that, it was his first run on grass, so I was happy enough. He has gone up 4lb, which seems a lot, but he previously only went up 3lb for winning, and I thought that was good, so things have probably evened out.
I couldn't be happier with him at home and he ran nicely on his latest outing at Doncaster, but I have a feeling Salisbury really could suit him down to the ground.
Due to the nature of the track they have a habit of quickening early in the staying races at Salisbury. As soon as they go over the brow of the hill at the five pole they seem to get rolling and every horse normally tends to be off the bit by the two pole. That will play to the strengths of Stanley, a real yard favourite who has been enjoying himself out in a paddock in the sun.
He is a naturally free-going horse who likes to gallop and express himself. It's hard to do that on the rain-softened ground we got at Sandown but he ran a lovely race to finish fourth.
For the second time this year Stanley is my Hottie and I'm hoping he can take advantage of what could be an ideal race for him at Salisbury.