Is the Cheltenham Festival tempting us to allow rule-bending by trainers?
How many horses are truly being run on their merits throughout the jumps season? In this week’s Weekender, Alan King says . . .
“We train our horses to progress as the season develops” Is that within the rules?
45.3 A Trainer must not send any horse to race with a view to schooling or conditioning the horse.
There’s the matter of fitness, readying horses to peak at a particular time, and, crucially, timing medication to be out of their systems so that the doping rules are not infringed come race time. If this is what we have come to, perhaps we should be honest about it and the rules modified to fit. Some might gladly agree to such a compromise for that glorious week in March; I might even be one of them. But we need a degree of openness about it.
Should trainers be required to declare a quantifiable fitness assessment for each runner before a race? Rather than: ‘He’ll be doing his best, but I’d expect him to come on for this,’ something like, ‘I’d say he is 80% fit.’ It would then be up to punters to decide whether that 80% fit horse has enough natural talent to beat another in the race who’s been declared 95% fit. Doubtless trainers will win with horses declared as 70% fit and plenty will lose with horses deemed 100% fit. But at least the information is in the open. It is then up to punters to decide what to do with that information. Of course there is also the question of the judgement of the trainer and the honesty of the trainer. But as things stand, there’s a level of compulsory dishonesty anyway, if many horses are running in races with the intention of preparing them to win another race.
Or, if NH racing needs prep races for horses, then perhaps the Jumpers’ Bumpers should be properly structured, and horses who are being openly prepped, confined to those races until declared 100% fit and ready to win over jumps.
It’s a tough problem with many facets, but as the Festival’s influence grows, it’s going to have to be faced at some point.