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Trainers Threaten Boycot

End of season looms

Mass action seems to work. Eskom’s disgruntled work force has threatened to put the lights out following a breakdown in wage negotiations. Grooms played havoc with racing in Gauteng recently. The latest stakeholder grouping threatening to flex their collective muscle is our hard-pressed trainers.

The end of the current season could hail a watershed moment in South African horseracing with momentum gathering as trainers threaten to boycott their licence renewals, a renewal of which costs over R3000, while a new application costs in excess of R7000.

“There is no due diligence or screening on renewal. It’s a computer action by a clerk and signed off by a senior person. Yet it costs over R3000!” says a KZN trainer, who lamented the fact that an organisation tasked with uplifting the game, and indirectly attracting new blood, had been instrumental in serial blundering and thus harming the public image.

“Respect is earned. No position of authority comes with an automatic right of reverence. What happened to the golden age of Stipendiary Stewards like Jock Sproule, Dudley Feldman, Frank McGrath and more recently Dave McGillivray?” asks a veteran trainer speaking on condition of anonymity to the Sporting Post.

“Those men were respected – even when the marginal decisions went against us. One never felt that there was a streak of vindiction or a hidden agenda. The National Horseracing Authority’s current hierarchy, with a few notable exceptions, are men of straw and seemingly generally out of their depth. We need to start at board level and go down the ladder to witness the level of incompetence in the ranks of an institution tasked with governing and maintaining the integrity of racing and breeding.”

From our discussions with a host of trainers across the spectrum, it appears that the groundswell of discontent and frustration has reached boiling point, with the prospect of a boycott of renewals of licences at the end of this season a very real probability.

While a few trainers were prepared to stand up and be named, it was collectively agreed amongst the group that we interviewed that anybody going on record would become a sacrificial lamb.

Hot seat – NHA CEO Lyndon Barends

“They are just not taking us seriously. And I’m sad for Lyndon Barends that he will be the first Jockey Club CEO to preside over a crisis of this nature. But he is the man in the hot seat and he must realise that the buck stops at his door,” said a trainer who added that the economy and trading conditions, as well as labour issues, were tough enough, without the aggravation of the NHA’s window dressing and lip service compounding matters.

The introduction of an objection appeal process was one that had been lobbied by trainers.

“The bottom line is that given the general competency levels of our Stipes, there was too much power vested in a rushed call on race day. These, often bad decisions, affect the stud book and owners and breeders in the long run. In France and England, and many world-class racing jurisdictions, there is an objection appeal route that is open. But the NHA Management is obsessed with the Aussie mind-set and somehow try and model our rule book on them,” says a Cape trainer who has been in the game for thirty years.

Amongst the many grievances is the unilateral increases of fines in line with ‘inflation’.

“They have decided that fines are an important source of income. So let’s push them up with an ‘inflation rate’ of 20% per annum. How do they justify that rationale?” asks a trainer, who added that the inflation rate must be based on an unknown country on ‘another planet’.

The aspect of plea bargaining is another that has fallen on deaf ears at the NHA.

“Do they understand who is funding them? They seem to have unlimited budgets for legal counsel and administrative and related personnel. Plea bargaining, or the notion of the parties agreeing on a suitable sentence in the interests of saving valuable time and money,  while still ensuring that justice is served, has been accepted in our courts for ages. But the NHA prefer to drag matters out and incur costs. I suppose when it’s not your money, it’s easy to spend ,” says a Port Elizabeth trainer, who is considering throwing in the towel.

The demerit system of accountability for minor offences has also received a lukewarm response. In fact stakeholder consultation with regard to the general writing of rules has also fallen apart after a brief flicker of hope late in 2017.

“They paid lip service and invited elected senior jockeys and trainers and their representatives. But then still unilaterally chopped and changed things! And as for the minutes to come out of that meeting – let’s just say that they did not accurately reflect what was discussed. So the whole concept has disintegrated and we are back to square one,” says a Gr1 winning trainer.

A decentralisation of the stiping function was suggested. It was felt by many trainers canvassed that the position of the Racing Control Executive was superfluous to requirments and in an age of cost-cutting was an ‘obstructive luxury’.

“Leave the responsibility up to the Regional Stipendiary Board Chairmen. Let them manage their regions and report to HO. That makes them hands-on and forces them to do the job. Now we have one man in Joburg barking orders and instructing his regional puppets as to how to conduct their hearings and what fines to hand out. It’s ludicrous and defies the ‘free and fair trial’ principle as a start,” said a trainer who suggested that the wrong people in the wrong jobs was a major issue at the regulator.

“You know, when I have an ointment that has expired 24 hours in a yard of nearly 100 horses, and they slap one with a fine of R2000 and send  in an investigator that prowls your stables like something out of an episode of CSI, then you have to question priorities,” quips a senior trainer, who says that ‘mistakes will and can happen.’

“I speak for the majority of my colleagues when I say that none of us will deliberately try and ‘dope’ a horse. But mistakes can happen with medicines. Vets make mistakes. People make mistakes. Woolies make mistakes. Your bank makes mistakes. Even the bloody government makes mistakes!”

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14 comments on “Trainers Threaten Boycot

  1. Philip Goldberg says:

    I don’t blame the trainers.
    Saw a schedule of fees published by NHA a few months back, and thought to myself, no wonder why we cant attract people that work hard and have respect for their hard earned cash – they either don’t enter, or eventually turn up racing.

  2. Brian says:

    As much as we will miss racing I think I can talk for many when I say “go for it trainers”. This forum has featured many articles in respect of the ridiculous decisions over the years.

    I don’t feel sorry for Lyndon Barends. He is the CEO totally out of his depth and all he had to do was read this forum and take the many comments from my learned friend Adv. Maselle and things would never have come to this.

    A horse not in the pens never won a race and Mr. Barends, you dug your heels in and never got into the pens

  3. Chris Swart says:

    Fees up

    Stakes down

    That’s what an autocracy does.

    They must all go

  4. Ronny Nijimbere says:

    R7000 to renew a Trainer’s Licence!!!! That’s ridiculous, does the NHA think that all Trainers are Millionaires! I Feel sorry for the so called ‘Small Trainers’

    1. karel says:

      R600 a month? what’s ridiculous about that?

    2. Editor says:

      Ronny – just to clarify : the R7061 is a new application – it costs R3 045 for a re application

  5. Ronny Nijimbere says:

    Well karel, its obviously not coming out your pocket since you don’t hold a Trainer’s Licence.

  6. Mills says:

    I’ve surved on various committee,s including the HRA board, during my 50 year career as a trainer, owner and breeder in the Racing industry, and we always had to address the unDemocratic unfair unjust rules and regulations that was implemented by certain officials against people within the industry. Trainer’s and Jockeys are professional people who earns their lively hood from the Racing industry and will always carry the best interests of racing, there owners and everyone else’s within the industry at heart and will always won’t the best for all within the industry . I’ve always relayed my opinion that the cornerstone of any successful industry or organization are to be Democratic and transparent, fair and just and allow everyone to excerize there Democratic rights and maintained that the dictatorship behavior of certain officials don’t belong in any governance.or any industry and through hard work and pressured action we had alot of rules altered or changed. But there is still a lot of improvement needed on many matters and problem issues to be sorted out within the Racing industry to the benefit of everyone with the Racing Industry. Enjoy your racing everyone.

  7. Rick says:

    The NHRA has become another “parastatal” with fat cat salaries yet the game is hemorrhaging. Annual increases to renew colours are double digit – how do you justify that. They chasing people away from the sport

  8. Robert says:

    If Trainers boycott a race meeting or race meetings, the owners of the horses trained by them are deprived of competing for prize money. The owners are therefore prejudiced and no – one else. In such cases will the trainers refund there owners training fees for the month concerned ?

  9. Brian says:

    To true Robert! I some how think the owners might support this one. By the way Ed, unless I don’t read properly, the original article never mentioned new applications and in any event, if that is the case, not exactly encouraging growth in the sport is it?

    Not that the NHA would understand that.

    1. Editor says:

      Hi Brian – very observant, Yes, there was an edit as there was no differentiation between the renewal and the brand new application – we have since clarified and quoted the correct tariff

  10. Dawie Tert says:

    When Mister Barends took his position up he made immediate changes. He rentrenched staff, investigators and senior stipendiary stewards. He walked around sticking out his head like a proud ostrich. Unbeknown to many, the money he supposedly saved the NHRA was not saved as he made sure that it went into the pockets of the top management with increases to their salaries.

    Ed you can check up on this fact with the NHRA. Mister Barends recently employed a lady called Hazel to run the studbook. (edited statement – not verified)

    I think the NHRA should answer for these increases in fees. They need to explain and justify the increase.

  11. James George says:

    So will the trainers be the losers,Mike?

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