Following a small but significant amount of correspondence from the British horseracing public, as well as expressions of concern from its own members, the Horseracing Bettors Forum discussed the issue of non-runners at its meeting on 6 June 2016.
HBF members were unanimous in wishing to convey to the BHA the Forum’s belief that the high incidence of non-runners in British racing is disruptive and unwelcome to bettors, while the reasons given for many of those non-runners stretches credulity and undermines the wider appeal of the sport.
BHA has since confirmed that it is currently conducting its own review of the situation and that HBF’s input will be considered as a part of that and of subsequent discussions on this matter.
Among the observations/suggestions made (which are given in full below), HBF proposes that the trigger point for self-certification – beyond which trainers may have their right to self-certify withdrawn – should be lowered.
Additionally, it proposes that: the BHA veterinary team conducts work on the reasonable length of recovery for common ailments and for the findings to inform mandatory suspension levels; that horses declared as non-runners on account of the going should not be allowed to run on the same or very similar going for a significant time after their withdrawal for that stated reason; and that this should go hand in hand with increasing public and professional confidence in official descriptions of the going.
HBF has also conducted a forensic study of non-runners in one area of British racing in recent times and is likely to recommend that non-runners in circumstances which are harmful to betting markets and which could be construed as suspicious be investigated thoroughly on an individual basis.
The study also revealed that just over 10% of declared horses in turf Flat races became non-runners since the end of May, 2014, that the incidence of non-runners was less in higher-class races, and that it increased as going became more extreme.
The following are the full list of HBF’s current observations and recommendations:
- A high incidence of non-runners creates uncertainty in betting markets and discourages participation. This is particularly true of late non-runners
- Some of the consequences of non-runners – including Rule 4 deductions, amended each-way terms and unexpectedly altered race scenarios – are frustrating, off-putting and occasionally costly to punters, and therefore to the sport
- A certain incidence of non-runners is inevitable, due to unforeseen events, but HBF believes the level is much too high and that steps need to be taken to improve matters
- HBF understands that the trigger point for self-certification, beyond which trainers may have their right to self-certify withdrawn, is 20% on the Flat and 15% over jumps. This seems much too high and needs to be revisited
- More leniency could be applied when trainers have withdrawn horses in a timely manner, well in advance of the event
- HBF would like to see work conducted by the BHA’s veterinary team on the reasonable length of recovery for common ailments, and for the findings to inform mandatory suspension levels for horses who miss races for those declared ailments
- In general, public confidence in the system might well increase if horses were not permitted to run for a longer period after being declared non-runners, for whatever reason. This can be justified on the grounds of integrity (to counter suggestions that the system is being “gamed”), and welfare (should horses that were reported as “lame” on one day be allowed to run shortly after?) besides anything else
- Horses declared as non-runners on account of the going should not be allowed to run on the same or very similar going for a significant time after their withdrawal for that stated reason
- The possibility of a horse becoming a non-runner on account of the going should be flagged up much more clearly and much more widely. For instance, “will not run if going is unsuitable” (if it appears at all) is of no use to a punter unless it is known what “unsuitable” is imagined to be in this context
- The guidelines for non-runners on account of the ground appear too permissive. Connections may want the absolutely ideal circumstances for their horses, but this should be balanced against the consequences of non-runners to the betting and race-going public, to other racing professionals (including jockeys), and to the good reputation of the sport
- Tightening of ground-related non-runners needs to be accompanied by a greater confidence in the official description of the going and of how the going is arrived at (e.g. watering)
- It should not be possible for an apprentice to be replaced by a fully-fledged jockey, or vice versa, on account of a non-runner, other than in extremis. Again, this is important for the reputation of the sport, as well as for the consequences such changes have on betting markets and on the attractiveness of betting on the sport
HBF, 07 July 2016