TRAINERS ACT IN PROTEST OVER YARMOUTH POOR PRIZE-MONEY
John Lees reports for the Racing Post Easter Sunday March 23 2008 "Trainers at war over Yarmouth boycott."
WILLIAM HAGGAS on Saturday expressed his frustration at Christine Dunnett as he accused her of breaking ranks with other trainers who had agreed to shun Monday's Yarmouth meeting in protest at poor prize-money.
The action, which had the support of several of Britain's leading stables, resulted in the bank holiday meeting attracting just 34 runners to its six races, one of which will be a walkover for the Dunnett-trained Southwark Newsboy in the concluding 1m maiden.
With total added prize-money of £18,600 – more than £5,000 less than available at the corresponding meeting in 200, which itself became the victim of an owners' boycott – a number of trainers opted to withdraw their support, either by not making an entry or not declaring, to show their disapproval of Northern Racing's management of the course.
Haggas said: “Many trainers are pretty disappointed with the way Yarmouth is going and a lot of my friends in Newmarket didn't want to show any support for this fixture. Unfortunately, some
of the smaller trainers felt that they should be running their horses. The majority of trainers
have had enough of it. Prize-money is a huge issue for owners and trainers. Newmarket classes Yarmouth as its nursery. We want to look after the place and race there but they are continually downgrading the programme and we've had enough. I'm disappointed somebody declared in the maiden because everyone said they wouldn't, but somebody broke ranks. I hope she is pleased to have another winner.”
The Derby-winning trainer continued: “The racecourses are getting quite powerful. Our costs go up and up. Our clients are getting more angry about it and we are racing for less and less. Somewhere, it's got to break. “I made a few phone calls to trainers and they were unstinting in their support. There is a lot of ill-feeling and Northern Racing, in particular, appear to not want to put their hands in their pockets, whatever they might say. This is not a boycott. This is a
few of us getting together and doing something, instead of talking about it.”
The maiden had attracted 22 possibles at the five-day stage, including entries from Ed Dunlop, Mark Johnston, Peter Chapple-Hyam, Clive Brittain, John Gosden, Michael Jarvis and James Fanshawe, but after the race had reopened only Dunnett had made a declaration, with a horse who has finished last on both starts.
Dunnett, who trains at Hingham, Norwich, said: “I was put under pressure not to declare and I thought long and hard about it, but my owners wanted to declare. Being my local track, I felt it was bad not to support it. I don't think the Newmarket trainers have gone about this the right
way. If they'd called a meeting before the entry stage I'd have supported it, but us small trainers had already made plans. I hope nobody bears grudges. I feel a bit like I've crossed the picket-line and that I'll be tarred and feathered when I get to Yarmouth. But I'm not going to not run him because of the politics of racing – I've got to act in the interests of my owners.”
Brittain said: “To put on an Easter Monday fixture with that prize-money beggars belief. All our staff are on double wages and the lads also have a day in lieu, so to support races under £2,000 is impossible.”
Northern Racing has put £145,000 towards Yarmouth's purses this year, to help offset a 43.6 per cent Levy Board cut in basic daily rates, but the money has been targeted at other fixtures.
Further action by trainers is not predicted, but National Trainers' Federation president Chris Wall warned racecourses to take note. “This had nothing to do with the NTF, but a lot of trainers are fairly fed up with the way things are going,” he said. “I'd expect this to be a one-off, but if any racecourse is not pulling its weight it can expect similar treatment.”
Northern Racing's group managing director Tony Kelly said: “They would appear to have picked on the meeting as an easy target in order to make a point to the racing authorities. This is particularly frustrating, given the weather forecast was already a potential deterrent for runners and racegoers. “Their action damages horseracing, makes the sport less attractive to the paying public and will mean a reduction in contributions from bookmakers to the levy. “We've invested substantially in prize-money for 2008, with a large input of executive funding to offset the shortfall from the levy. Yarmouth's complete 2008 programme is being ignored in favour of targeting this single fixture. “We'll be in touch with the trainers concerned, the National Trainers' Federation and the Horsemen's Group next week, as we do not consider this is an appropriate manner to conduct matters. In the meantime, the fixture – weather permitting – will proceed, and we'll concentrate on those who do come, as racegoers or participants.”