An extraordinary number of column inches have been written today about the BHA’s new rule regarding the declaration by trainers of horses who have had wind surgery. The change will come into force on 19th January 2018 and will apply to previously raced horses, making their first run after certain types of wind surgery. The BHA has confirmed data will be made available for publication on Race Cards, with horses having “WS” next to their name. So far so good. But what appears to be a fairly limited change has sharply divided opinion amongst various stakeholders.
Some have chosen to link the announcement with Nicky Henderson and Altiorgate. Let’s be clear, the two issues are not connected. Altior related to Nicky Henderson saying on At The Races last Monday that Altior was “totally on target” for the Tingle Creek, only to write in his Unibet blog on Wednesday that his horse would miss the race due to a wind operation. To be fair to Henderson, he has given a detailed and credible explanation regarding the two apparently contrary statements. This has to do with how trainers’ statements influence markets and to some extent their financial relationships with bookmakers by writing for their websites.
The BHA change wasn’t drafted on the back of a fag packet overnight as a knee jerk reaction and was the result of a lengthy consultation, although perhaps the timing was always going to confuse the two stories.
One of main objections to the obligatory disclosure is that with such information being in the public domain it will push down the price of top horses in the bloodstock market. Frankly I don’t understand this argument: I wouldn’t consider investing even a modest sum of money in a horse, unless I was confident I had full details of its medical history and heritage. In any event, I would guess that the hugely inflated Irish market is not in any way driven by lack of information about wind surgery. Rather it’s about three men who are willing to pay obscene amounts of money for a horse and think nothing of forking out £250,000 on the back of one win in a fairly obscure point to point.
Responses from individual trainers have been mixed, but their Union, The National Trainers’ Federation (NTF), has expressed concerns in a press release today, where it didn’t mince its words. It questions how the rule is to be policed, highlighting that some surgery cannot be detected post operatively and the disadvantage to British based trainers, without reciprocal requirements in Ireland and France. My view is that if the BHA leads the way then all credit to them and I suspect others will follow. As someone who makes their living in the law, I don’t buy into the “it can’t be policed” line. A rule is either right or it’s not and where there is a will to enforce it, my experience is that a way can be found.
The main thrust of the NTF’s stance is that there is not enough data to establish how different types of wind surgery effect a horse’s performance and as such the information which now has to be disclosed is of limited, if any, value to the public. In bringing about the change without an “evidence based approach”, the NTF accuses the BHA of “poor regulation”. Whether this is annoyance at the BHA choosing to listen to the voice of The Horseracing Bettors Forum above their own or part of a larger hidden agenda, I don’t know. However, punters already make many assessments based on information for which there probably aren’t any evidence based conclusions. We know when a horse has a tongue strap or is a first time cheek piece wearer and such details may be factored in when attempting to pick a winner. If we can now add to that information about wind surgery, over time we can make our own judgment regarding how that might infuence a run.
As the BHA said this is about transparency and I would find it hard to argue against that. The more transparency there is the better, not just for the gambler but the industry as a whole. So let’s congrtaulate the BHA, but there’s still work to be done. The sport needs to be even more open, for the benefit of us all.