Worcester racecourse has moved its novice hurdle race to the end of tonight’s card. Why? Well, the race is likely to be a walkover, despite having 12 horses declared. In an unusual display of solidarity several trainers have said they will withdraw their horses in protest against the low level of prize money on offer for the race.
Top trainers Nicky Henderson, Donald McCain, Philip Hobbs, Alan King, Jonjo O’Neill and David Pipe have all agreed to support a boycott of the partex.co.uk Novices’ Hurdle because the prize money of £3,000 falls short of the tariff set by the Horsemen’s Group. That stands as £3,900. With the course unable or unwilling to stump up the difference, trainers have decided to take a stand.
It clearly wasn’t an easy decision for some of them. Hobbs said, “I’m uncomfortable about this. Having said that, we need to do something because a number of racecourses aren’t helping us to try to meet tariff. It’s £900 and they have been warned. Worcester is one of the worst offenders.”
The original plan had been to boycott the race completely, but Charlie Mann, acting as shop steward for the trainers explained a change of plan yesterday. He said, “We have decided between the 12 of us that one horse will be nominated for a walkover. It will cost Worcester £3,000 and that money will go either towards the trainers’ fines or to charity. It won’t be a case of one trainer breaking ranks. This could have been avoided by putting up £900.”
You have to wonder what the owners have to say about the action. I can’t imagine them being happy if they are still landed with a bill for transport to Worcester tonight.
The British Horseracing Authority moved to its usual position on the fence for the first time since Paul Bittar took over as chief executive. Spokesman John Maxse said, “Our goal as outlined by Paul Bittar is to ensure there is a framework recognised across the industry and embedded in the rules if necessary that provides owners and horsemen with a fair and appropriate share of all the revenues generated within races.” Thanks, John, and could you tell us whether you think this is a sensible way of attaining that objective?
Worcester is situated right on the banks of the River Severn, and regularly loses meetings through flooding. This year the course is spending a considerable amount of money to try and eliminate abandoned fixtures, as Kate Hills, PR director for owners Northern and Arena Racing Group explained. She said, “We do sympathise but Worcester has suffered a 60 % cut in levy funding and with the flooding is one of the least profitable courses in Britain. We have spent money bringing in pumps to get the track raceable. Things will improve next year when our aim is to meet tariff in every race.”
Usually, industrial action only comes about after discussions between the two parties have broken down. Sadly, in this instance, they don’t appear to have begun. Worcester is taking steps to put itself in a position where it can meet tariff, something the trainers don’t seem to have considered. If the trainers had discussed the matter with the racecourse, they might well have realised they were picking on the wrong target.