Kim Bailey insists it is the responsibility of his fellow trainers, and owners, to ensure ex-racehorses are properly cared for throughout their lives.
Bailey, who has trained the winners of all the top National Hunt races in a career stretching over more than 30 years, described the covert footage of abattoirs broadcast by the BBC’s Panorama programme as “horrific” and “horrendous”.
He stressed too, however, that it is incumbent on those who own and look after horses in their racing years to do all they can to help provide a safe and comfortable home for them afterwards.
Monday night’s Panorama documentary broadcast scenes of horses about to be euthanised at an abattoir in Swindon – reporting many had arrived there after gruelling and inhumane transportation from Ireland.
The British Horseracing Authority has responded by calling urgent meetings to discuss the troubling issues with industry leaders, including the independently-chaired Horse Welfare Board, and their counterparts at Horse Racing Ireland.
Bailey told Sky Sports Racing: “You can keep re-funding and adding more funds as long as you want to – but the end product is it is up to the trainers, I believe, to make sure the horses they have in their own care find a home afterwards whereby they can be looked after and treasured for the rest of their lives.
“I think it’s something trainers need to point out to owners that, when they get involved in racing, they are as responsible as we are to make sure those horses – when they leave racing – have a future.
“You just can’t get involved in a horse and say ‘well, actually it’s stopped racing now – I want to get rid of it’.
“They’ve got to hold on to responsibility themselves. It’s a dual responsibility, from the trainers’ point of view and the owners’ to make sure we look after where horses go after racing.”
Also crucial, Bailey believes, is the administrative infrastructure which allows the movement of ex-racehorses to be properly tracked.
“I think it’s incredibly important,” he said.
“We pass on horses on a regular basis – I think we’ve moved on about 20 this summer.
“We interview the people who are taking the horse on, (and) we get references from the people who are having them.
“They have to keep in touch with me during the entire time they have the horse. If at any stage during that period they find they can’t cope, for financial reasons or they find the horse is not suitable for them, the horse has to come back here – and then we can try again.”
One such horse was Bailey’s former Grade Two-winning chaser Harry Topper.
He added: “Harry Topper – who was a very good horse for me some years ago – we rehomed him three times.
“The third time, we found the ideal home for him in Ireland with a person who used to look after him when she was here.
“They go from here with a view that, if it doesn’t work out, they have to come back – so they can’t disappear.”
Enhanced governance by racing authorities can only help further.
“You can certainly push on the governing situation,” said Bailey.
“They have a microchip – horses are, like a human, (in that) they have a passport. They are there to see if we can trace where they’ve gone to.
“How far do you go to regulate the situation?
“There are always going to be (cases) whereby horses do not end up in the ideal home – and a decision has to be made as to what happens to that horse.
“But it should be a joint decision between the owner and trainer as to what you do next.”
Bailey was especially concerned by Panorama’s reports that many horses – including former top chaser Vyta Du Roc – had to endure transportation from Ireland to the abattoir in Swindon.
“I thought that was probably the most horrific part of the whole programme,” he said.
“I’m sure Ireland have their own abattoirs – (so) I cannot understand why horses had to be dragged from Ireland to Swindon. It made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.
“I think that’s one area we need to really push to find out why that happens – because (the horse) should never have been in the situation it was, to go from one country to the next.”
Panorama’s abattoir has caused great consternation – as have claims that contaminated horse meat found its way into the human food chain via fraudulent practice.
The Food Standards Agency, which regulates abattoirs, responded in a statement which read: “Upholding animal welfare and the safety and authenticity of the food we eat is a top priority for Government.
“The Food Standards Agency and Defra work closely with food businesses and slaughterhouses to ensure that animal welfare is maintained at all stages of food production and that all our food is correctly labelled and safe to eat.
“The FSA has asked Panorama to supply the footage that has been obtained during this investigation. If there is any evidence of mistreatment of animals, they will take action and investigate thoroughly.”
Bailey added: “The programme showed racing in a bad light, but it also showed the abattoir world is in a far worse place than we are.
“Their welfare regulations are obviously not as stringent as they rather hoped they are.
“To see what we saw last night – which was nothing to do with racing – is just awful, and you have to work on the theory that the abattoirs need to get themselves under control, because what they showed us last night was just horrific.
“Anybody who has to watch those sort of scenes, it’s horrendous to see.”
Flat trainer David Menuisier underlined his belief too that trainers owe a debt to their former charges when their racing days are over.
He said: “I think the pictures we saw last night were absolutely disgusting.
“People who are in the sport are basically there because they love horses, they are animal lovers – and what we saw last night (in the abattoir footage) was just atrocious.
“I’m trying to rehome a horse now who I’ve cared for three or four years. I’ve had a few phone calls, but I want to meet the people and make sure they are right for him before anything is agreed.
“I think we possibly need to look at better traceability for horses after they leave racing, but many horses do go on to have a happy retirement.
“We are nothing without them, and we owe it to them to make sure they have happy lives. We need to make sure from A to Z, like humans, they are cared for and treated well.”