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MP appeals for calm in racing

Laurence-Robertson-MPAn MP has called on racing to end a sequence of damaging public arguments and begin working together after three Cheltenham Festival-winning trainers criticised the BHA.

Laurence Robertson MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Racing and Bloodstock Industries Group, said such disharmonywas deeply damaging to the sport.

However, in a letter to the Racing Post, Henrietta Knight, Mick Channon and Charles Egerton lambasted BHA chief executive Nick Rust, criticising his handling of the sport and equine welfareand accusing the regulator of hiring too many Australians, who they claimed lacked an understanding of jump racing.

The trio took aim at numerous decisions over the lastthree decades,blaming the BHA for increasing summer jump racing, producing an unnecessarily large programme of mares-only races and over the licensing of some trainers.

They also derided Jockey Club Racecourses for making alterations to the jumps course at Haydock and for closing Nottingham to jump racing in 1996, a move they believe has made it more difficult to prepare horses for major fixtures at Cheltenham and Aintree.

In the letter, the trainers labelled Rust as “clearly not qualified” for his role, and rebuked him for comparing horseracing to sports such as hare coursing and fox hunting when referring to the need to have a proactive approach to welfare during a recent interview.

“The incumbent CEO is clearly not qualified to be involved in this process as he demonstrated by his absurd analogy on Sunday comparing racing with blood sports,” they said.

“His inability to grasp the relevant welfare issues facing racing – precipitated by the greed of the racecourses – and by presiding over an expansion of an underfunded fixture list with a horse population which is staffed inadequately, moving fixtures out of the core season to summer jumping, the plethora of mares-only races that will weaken the breed and distort pedigrees, racecourses over-racing and racing on false watered ground, and licensing trainers with unsustainable businesses are some of the welfare issues of the time that need addressing.”

This latest spat comes after an onslaught of criticism directed at the BHA,includinga fallout with trainers over the directive for all jumps horses to wear hind shoes and controversy over bans handed out to jockeys following the running of the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, leading to accusations from trainer Henry Daly that the bodywas "sorely misguided and misrepresentative".

Robertson, theMP forTewkesbury, urged the sport’s professionals and regulator to engage in constructive talks to find solutions to problems and cultivate a more positive imageof the industry for those outside racing.

He said: “There are so many disparate groups and it’s very unfortunate people feel the need to attack each other. It doesn’t help everything constantly spilling out into the open.

“It can’t be good and it would be better if these matters could be resolved in a sensible way. Communication is a big thing. If you can communicate with the people you are working with better than how you are, then they are going to be less aggrieved. Fairness is another side to it as they want to feel they are being treated fairly. It can’t be good [for the sport] to see people so publicly falling out.

“I am hopeful the BHA will improve and I have been fairly critical of it in some ways over the last few years, particularly around engagement on the funding issues. They are listening more now and are determined to move forward while taking on board some of the things that are said. I do have a lot of regard for Nick and [corporate affairs manager] Ross Hamilton, who seems a sensible voice too.”

The staffing of the BHA was highlighted as an area of concern by Knight, Channon and Egerton, particularly focusing on a belief that employing Australians was having a detrimental effect on jumping, views also aired by 20-time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy.

The letter said: “It is also rather surprising that after a series of highly questionable appointments, we are still hiring people from the Antipodes, a region where they have successfully placated the ‘angry brigade’ and regulated jumping to near non-existence. Have we not got the necessary expertise nearer to home?

“Due to the lack of leadership over the last two decades, the culture within the BHA and the lack of knowledge of the people they have chosen to employ, the BHA has become a liability and detrimental to the future survival of our industry.”

The BHA received the backing of sports minister Mims Davies at last week's Cheltenham Festival, while Rust insisted on Sunday that the regulator's approach on welfare was driven by changes in public perception and the desire to keep control of racing in the sport's own hands.

Nevertheless, the three trainers called on racing to work together to bring in a new BHA chairman to offset what they feel is the desire to put commercial opportunities over the best interests of the sport.

"Nick Rust’s patronising interview confirms the urgency for the horsemen to start exercising their influence in the selection process of the new BHA chairman to avoid yet another disastrous period," they wrote.

"If we do not implement what is best for the long-term interest of the horse, and not be swayed by the best commercial argument at the time, racing deserves everything it will get coming to it."

Jockey Club Racecourses was unavailable for comment.

21 March 2019

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