And so, with a flurry of BHA tweets, the first stage of the Sungate saga drew to a close. Whilst I think the lack of disciplinary action was almost inevitable in the wake of no positive test results, and therefore the failure to reveal names is also justified, it does stick in the throat somewhat when I compare it to the way I was treated last year. My name had been dragged through the mud long before any hearing, and thus any notion of guilt or innocence had been established. Even once it had been shown that I was clearly not guilty of milkshaking New Den, a little bit of legal chicanery and poetic licence still saw the BHA find me guilty of a lesser charge that they had not even put to me, and which had they done so I would have contested in the strongest possible manner. The fact that the horse had been given a veterinary prescribed tie-up powder, and therefore I should be absolved of any blame, was not part of my defence, and nor should it have been. Or should it, as it appears that in the case of Sungate, ignorance was indeed bliss?
I thought the Thursday Report in the Racing Post last week threw up some interesting figures, the most telling of which was the owner contribution to racing – for an income of £85m pounds, owners in the UK are shelling out £189m on purchasing horses and £369 on training fees and other associated costs. That is a staggering amount of expenditure for a tiny income, and whilst people are quick to point out that nobody is forcing them to do it, if that attitude pervades, soon there will be no horses left to keep the show that we all love going. I have noticed a massive reduction in new owners coming into the game over the last few years, and even die-hard owners have cut down on horses in training, and are often failing to replace those they do have when they come up for retirement. We are nearly below the critical mass of horses required to remain in business, and this is a story I hear all over the country at the moment. I sincerely hope the racecourses and bookmakers bear this in mind during ongoing negotiations over prize money – it is all very well trying to bleed as much profit as possible out of the game for their shareholders/owners, but if the long-term result is a continued reduction in the quality of the product then a short term gain will rapidly develop into long term pain.
Fewer horses in training has led to fewer runners for me than in previous years, but I’m really pleased that we are still above the 15% winners to runners ratio. I made the long trip in the horse-box to Great Yarmouth yesterday where Sonnetation ran a very honourable race, just getting touched off for 2nd on the line. I’m glad to report that Yarmouth now have a big screen in place, so you no longer have to retreat to the bar to watch your runners, which is a huge improvement, and I have to say in this day and age, surely a minimum requirement on a racecourse.