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Trainers hit out over prospect of losing right to declare non-runners

Two trainers falling foul of new non-runner thresholds highlighted in a league table of performance warned they would not compromise equine welfare to improve their numbers.

Eight Flat and one jumps trainer will lose the right to declare their horses as non-runners (self-certification) for a year if by March they are still having non-runners at the same rate, according to figures released by the BHA on Monday.

The rule, part of a series of measures designed to decrease non-runner rates in British racing, will take into account declared runners from the previous 12 months.

Rehabilitating horses

But Patrick Morris, the worst offender with 24 non-runners from 104 declarations between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017, said that while he is hopeful of reducing his 23 per cent non-runner rate he would accept any punishment in preference to compromising the health and fitness of the animals under his care.

A large part of Morris’s business is rehabilitating horses for other trainers in order to send them back fit and strong, and he suggests it is this dedication to his horses’ welfare that may have caused his inflated numbers.

Patrick Morris: "The only way I could have improved it is by cutting back on horse welfare, which I think is the wrong thing to do"

“I can only speak from a personal point of view,” he told the Racing Post. “My numbers look quite bad, but it’s a small sample size and I think we have a good chance of improving it quite easily by having just a small number of runners.

“I train a bunch of cast-offs. I don’t have two-, three- and four-year-olds, and they have all sorts of niggles and problems, so horse welfare is paramount to me. If I have a six-year-old who has a tweak I’ll err on the side of caution and not run – even if it’s fifty-fifty. I don’t set out to have non-runners – it’s the last thing you want – but 48 hours is a long time in an older horse’s life.

“The only way I could have improved it is by cutting back on horse welfare, which I think is the wrong thing to do. I’ll be doing everything in my power to get this number down but, no matter what the repercussions, I will not run a horse if I don’t think it’s right for the horse – regardless of the consequences. I’m not going to change that.”


FLAT TRAINERS
(October 1, 2016-September 30, 2017)

Name                   Declarations    Non-runners     Percentage

Patrick Morris           104                    24                     23
Steph Hollinshead    129                     26                     20
Ben Haslam              160                     31                     19
Phil McEntee             260                    46                      18
David Brown             265                    43                      16
Richard Price            109                    17                      16
Noel Wilson              146                    23                      16
Neil Mulholland       136                     21                     15
Richard Guest          489                     69                      14
Robert Cowell          384                     54                      14
Rebecca Menzies     134                     19                      14

JUMPS TRAINERS
(October 1, 2016-September 30, 2017)

Name                   Declarations    Non-runners     Percentage

Mark Gillard              117                   17                       15
Kerry Lee                   198                   19                      10
Tom Symonds            138                   14                      10
David Dennis             276                   28                       10
Jeremy Scott             208                   18                        9
Brian Barr                 105                     9                        9
Neil King                   181                   16                        9
Graeme McPherson   193                   17                        9
Bernard Llewellyn     116                   10                        9
Alexandra Dunn         266                   25                        9
Dai Williams              100                     9                        9
Tony Carroll              118                   11                         9
Henry Oliver              162                   14                         9
Robin Dickin              161                   14                         9


The BHA rule states: “any trainer with more than 100 declarations in the period with a non-runner rate above a published threshold percentage (namely 50 per cent above the average non-runner rate) will be suspended from using self-certificates for 12 months.”

Those thresholds are currently 14 per cent on the Flat and 12 per cent over jumps, although these are liable to change and the BHA will issue guidelines in January as to what the level will be from March.

David Brown is another currently the wrong side of the threshold at 16 per cent, with 43 non-runners from 265 declarations from October 1, 2016 to September 31, 2017.

He said: “We want to run horses, but they’re animals and with 48-hour decs and the British weather there are so many situations that can cause [a non-runner].

“It’d be an annoyance if we could no longer self-certificate, and I’m sure this will create cases where it makes trainers run horses they probably don’t want to. We only take them out with very good reason, so they probably need to review it all and alter their rules a bit as well.”

David Brown: "We only take them out with very good reason"

“It’s rare for us to have a non-runner, as the list shows. But with more 48-hour declarations I think we’ll see more and more non-runners across the board as more can go wrong in that timescale.

“I’m sure trainers who are declaring non-runners are doing it for their own reasons and I don’t think there’s a problem with too many non-runners.”

The BHA’s head of media Robin Mounsey said: “We’re hopeful the risk of having the ability to self-certify withdrawn will provide a sufficient incentive for those trainers who operate with high non-runner rates to reduce the number of horses being withdrawn following declarations.

“Non-runners impact negatively on everyone involved in the sport and there is a clear need to reduce the existing non-runner rate.”


COMMENT
Bruce Millington, editor

The tables published by the BHA on Monday showing the frequency of non-runners by trainer are alarming and encouraging.

Alarming because they show just how willing some trainers are to withdraw their horses even though it disfigures racecards and annoys punters; encouraging because they illustrate that an evidence-based approach is being taken to tackling the problem of non-runners.

It is truly astonishing how differently some yards operate to others in terms of how few of their declared runners actually jump off or leave the stalls, and also how uncommon it is for the vast majority of the most successful trainers to pull their runners out.

On the Flat, for example, Richard Fahey currently fails to run just two per cent of his declared horses and Mark Johnston three per cent, yet two trainers, Patrick Morris and Steph Hollinshead, withdraw more than a fifth of their runners.

Richard Fahey: fails to run only two per cent of his declared horses

And over jumps one wonders why it is possible that Colin Tizzard can operate at a non-runner rate of 0.46 per cent, with Nicky Henderson and Philip Hobbs at two per cent and Paul Nicholls and Nigel Twiston-Davies at three, yet four trainers fail to run a tenth of their declared horses.

From the end of March 2018 trainers whose figures are higher than the agreed threshold will have their self-certification rights withdrawn, and that cannot happen soon enough, but the regulator should also question its current methodology for determining the threshold.

It currently deems that to be more than 50 per cent above the average non-runner percentage, but that assumes the average is acceptable, which is questionable. Motorists have to drive within the confines of speed limits that are set based on what is safe, not on the average driver’s velocity.

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