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Barrier Trials And Tribulations

Time To Step Up?

Starting stalls (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Barrier Trials – time to formalise? (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Charles Darwin is credited with saying, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Therefore it was interesting to read the presentations from this year’s Jockey Club Round Table with regards to racing and the challenges it currently faces.

Back in 2015, Racing Australia’s Chief Executive Peter McGauran went on record to say, “We have to meet community expectations. The idea of a competitive animal sport operating in its own bubble is archaic. We operate under a social licence.”

That license is getting harder and harder to keep and the general opinion by the outside world (those that even know racing exists) is that we are not terrifically nice people.

We have heard similar assertions from Dr Iris Bergmann at the ITBF Congress back in January 2017.  We’ve heard them from Vicky Leonard.  We’ve heard it nearly every year in some form or another from the various animal welfare groups and it is clear racing can only continue as long as we conform to, or at least fly under the radar, of accepted society norms and standards.

These are changing fast and racing either has to keep pace, or risk falling by the way side.  And it was a strong theme at this year’s Round Table.

James Gagliano, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Jockey Club in the USA, cited that the latest McKinsey report found over 50% of casual racing fans would stop betting if they knew horses were mistreated, and that new fans specifically objected to the use of the whip.  In a survey of the entire fan base, McKinsey found the top concern was treatment of horses after retirement, followed by day-to-day treatment of horses in training; and, third, illegal doping.

Simon Bazalgette, Group Chief Executive of the UK Jockey Club cited welfare, and more importantly, the PERCEPTION OF WELFARE as ‘probably our number one risk factor in the sport’ in the UK.  He made the very valid point that the majority of ‘Joe Public’ has a very simplistic view.  “If we don’t deal with them, they’re the ones who end up changing laws and getting things banned and those kind of things,” adding, “So if we don’t get out there and get the message out to that wider group and we just speak to people who already know about racing, we could have a major problem coming down the line.”


During the furore surrounding the Melbourne Cup back in 2014, one of the most thought-provoking comments came from Victoria Doyle who said, “horse racing is an easy target – only because they let themselves be”.

While I agree with her in many respects, the good news is we don’t have to be a target.  And the more organised and proactive we can be, the better our chances.  But we have a bit of catching up to do.

South African racing has inched forward with the creation of its rehoming rule.  The practical application may be subject to debate, but it’s a start.  If the CEO would return emails regarding a rehoming committee, that would be another quantum leap forward.

Barrier Trials were another great step towards enhancing transparency and consumer confidence in our sport.  It would be a shame if a lack of house-keeping shot it in the foot.

Rules Are Not All Created Equal

Rules Are There For A Reason

Why do I say that?  Well, in theory, Barrier Trials are run under the Rules and Constitution of the National Horseracing Authority (“NHA”).  In case you think the Operators fall outside those rules, allow me to disabuse you of that notion.  For the sake of expediency, I’m selecting the highlights reel, but my theory is easily proven with The Operators Rules (yes, they do exist), under section 44 of the NHA’s Rule Book, which reads as follows:-

44.1 – A RACING OPERATOR shall be bound by, and shall hold its RACE MEETINGS under the RULES (all of them).  That basically says it all as far as I’m concerned, but if you remain unconvinced, there are a few more to support my statement.

44.6 – A RACING OPERATOR shall observe, abide by and enforce the CONSTITUTION and the RULES.

Rule 46 states that, “All meetings at which RACES take place shall be run in terms of the RULES.”

Section 49, which pertains to entries and Subsection 49.1 clearly states “All entries, however made, are subject to the Rules, the Conditions and the Race Requirements. In the event that there is a conflict between the Rules, the Conditions and/or the Race Requirements, the Rules shall prevail.”

And so on, and so forth.

So it is clear ] Gold Circle is bound by the Rules of the NHA.

But of course the exception proves the rule and it seems when it comes to Barrier Trials, they do not.


Andrew Sachs

Exactly.  There are no official NHA rules to govern Barrier Trials and therefore, as matters stand, Trials are conducted in some kind of limbo where some rules count, but some do not (sounds like business as usual, really!)  Jokes aside, it’s hard enough to enforce existing rules, grey areas are tantamount to an engraved invitation for trouble.

Why This Presents A Problem

Barrier Trials, in their present form, contravene a number of existing NHA Rules, including the majority of section 62, the Rules of Running, and the following subsections in particular:-

62.1 Every HORSE shall be run and shall be allowed to run to the best of its ability and on its merits.

62.2 The RIDER of a HORSE shall:-

62.2.1 take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout a RACE to ensure that his HORSE is given a full opportunity to win or to obtain the best possible placing;

62.2.3 ride his HORSE out to the end of a RACE to the satisfaction of the STIPENDIARY STEWARDS.

Section 62 has already caused considerable debate, as well as push back from the jockeys, who risk fines if they are deemed to be falling foul of 62.2.1 in particular.  However, they are, in theory, giving horses a glorified gallop, in which case you might not want a horse pushed to obtain its best possible placing, and rather just to have a pleasant schooling outing.  Which then puts both the jockeys and the Stipendiary Stewards in an invidious position.  Should horses be ridden out in Trials, or should they not?


The other contentious area is Rule 73, which relates to Prohibited Substances and again I’ll just select the most relevant bits:-

73.1 Any PERSON who administers a PROHIBITED SUBSTANCE to a HORSE, or is party to, or assists, or allows or incites any individual to administer a PROHIBITED SUBSTANCE to a HORSE, at any time which results in or would have resulted in a PROHIBITED SUBSTANCE being present in a HORSE:

73.1.1 when it is presented on a RACE COURSE to run, or runs in a RACE; or

73.1.2 at any time within a period of 48 hours preceding the day of the RACE in which it is or was due to run; or

73.1.4 at any time on the day when it is presented for the purpose of determining whether a suspension should be lifted or for the purpose of a gallop to determine its fitness; shall be guilty of an offense.

As matters stand, it is public knowledge Barrier Trial horses do not have specimens taken post-race, which, reading between the lines looks to me like an invitation for trouble.  I’m not saying that not testing trial horses necessarily implies people are running horses on medication, but let’s be fair, if we could rely on everyone to be law-abiding citizens, there would be no need for rules in the first place.  It seems a little counter-intuitive that the mechanism designed to enhance consumer confidence, has missed something so fundamental, but if we have rules prohibiting medication in normal racing, it stands to reason the same should apply to Barrier Trials.  Frankly, it boggles the mind this has not been done already.

Either way, the status quo is far too vague and there are far too many questions, of which the most pressing is ‘what has the NHA been doing all this time?’  Gold Circle gave plenty of notice that they were launching the initiative and the first Barrier Trial was conducted on 12 November 2017.  That’s nine months ago.   If we can have Rule 47.3.3 for Match Races (something we haven’t seen since the early 90’s), then surely we ought to have Rules for things that are happening on a regular basis?

Why the rush?

While I understand the NHA does not always move as quickly as one might like, there are plenty of instances of Rules appearing (or disappearing) overnight, so they can certainly be remarkably speedy when sufficiently motivated.

I generally find loss of life to be a fairly good incentive for action and as we have reached the somewhat dubious milestone of our first Barrier Trial fatality, it seems silly to leave loose ends that might come back to haunt us.

We can’t change the past, but we can certainly improve things going forward and I think it’s time we do.

So now for some good news.  Happily, all of the above is easily remedied by the simple addition of a section in the Rule Book to deal with Trials – and voila!  Then the job’s done and everyone knows where they stand.  Plus, as a handy extra, it prevents any unwanted criticism.  So if the NHA would just come to the party and organise some Rules to cover the thing, then we can all get on with our lives.

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12 comments on “Barrier Trials And Tribulations

  1. Jurgs says:

    How sure are you Robyn that the NHA rules do not apply to these trials? Surely the trials are monitored, the starter is there already, so maybe the rest of the stipes are too? I find it incomprehensible that there are no rules for something that is a prerequisite to race a horse in KZN should they either be 1st timers or coming off a long rest. The NHA can surely not be this incompetent?

  2. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    I think Robyn is indicating that the rules for barrier trials are less stringent than races for which there are triers and money earned.

    1. Horses and jocks don’t have to try and win
    2. Jockeys cant get suspended – they would refuse to ride as they are (were) not remunerated – easier to find the lochness monster than getting an open asnwer from gold circle as to the cost of this debacle (have to disagree that its a positive for racing)
    3. hosrses can be doped to their eyeballs and no one woiuld know as there is no testing

    How can possibly doped horses formlines be of help to punters? How can under prep horses using a barrier as part of their programmes form be of help to punters?

    I wonder how the trade in impressive barrier trial horses is going – my gut says good for the sellers

  3. Ian Jayes says:

    If Barrier Trials are set at a lower standard than actual racing, then they are nothing more than window dressing. If they are to have any meaning, the qualifying times must be realistic and the jockeys that rode them in the trial should also ride them in the races. Horses taking part in barrier trials should all be dope-tested as horses that need medication for barrier trials should not race.

  4. The Dark Duke says:

    I understand that Pulse the horse that broke down in the barrier trial received medication a few days prior to the gallop. It is in the passport. How the NHA have not investigated this, is indicative of accurate Robyn Louw is regarding their dereliction of duty.

  5. Jurgs says:

    @the dark duke are you saying that the horse was legally dosed prior to the gallop? What was dosed, ,when was it dosed, why was it dosed, and who dosed it? ( here I presume that it was done by a vet if it is in the horses passport ). All I am saying is that if this horse was given something to assist it complete the gallop, heads need to roll.

  6. Louis Goosen says:

    I have never been a fan of Barrier Trials. I can never be a fan of anything which costs Owners and Punters alike. These Barrier Trials only benefit a few, imho and those few are the ones fighting in the PRO Barrier Trial corner.

    By now our Trainers should have enough experience to be able to prepare horses for their first run and to have an idea of their ability prior to their first run. And the betting should reflect all of this for the Punters to follow. Surely the Punters are better off watching a first timer shorten on race day and then follow the money , rather than see the horse open at 8 to 10 ? And as for the hapless Owner, he has paid for the horse and for the keep of the horse all along , then still have to PAY IN for a Barrier Trial , gallop for no stakes and then smile in the parade ring come race day, because his horse is a short priced favourite….

    And there has been lots of egg in the faces of the pro barrier trial brigade lately. Short priced favourites, from a good barrier trial are getting beat….often.

    Ultimately, though, those of us who are really concerned about the welfare of the horse and also about the image of racing, are scratching our heads at the fact that there is no dope testing at Barrier Trials. This is confusing, especially for Trainers who are subject to out of competition testing and who are subject to testing when presenting horses for stalls recertification etc.

    Ok, so here are some examples of what Barrier Trials allow , simply because you are not going to be tested –

    1)You can Barrier Trial your horse on lasix.
    2)If your horse is lame, you can barrier Trial on prohibited substances, anti inflammatories.
    3)If you were an unscrupulous person, you could even put a nerve block into a joint that has a chip in it, just for the gallop….
    4)Of course, if your horse is poorly schooled or very hot inside the starting stalls, you can administer a sedative to the horse….

    Now, lets imagine that if you are in Racing to milk Owners, to make money on horse trading and you have a horse which you are “putting together”, you then could use any of the 4 points above to close the deal straight after the Barrier Trial…

    Now I am not saying that this is being done. I am merely highlighting the potential for cruelty to horses and also the fact that Racing’s image , already under pressure, is about to tumble some more especially should the Animal Cruelty League or suchlike become involved.

    It is always a shock and a sadness for us all when a horse breaks down and has to be euthanased. Racing is rife with unfounded rumours. For instance the rumour doing the rounds is that the horse which broke down and was euthanased , had received an anti inflammatory 2 days before said trial. The horse was not tested as it was a barrier trial… The point is that whether this rumour is true or not, the image of racing becomes even further damaged when stories like this go around and even by the very thought of Barrier Trials being a “free for all” in terms of untested and uncontrolled drug use in innocent horses.

    As for NHRA, I am disappointed that they are allowing this to go on. However this was definitely not their decision. This decision came from Gold Circle and has become a grey area as such, a type of Local Condition. Let’s hope that these two bodies can sort this out, for the good of the horses and the image of Racing.

  7. Louis Goosen says:

    Medications are not kept in the passport of a horse. These are kept in the Veterinary Register of the Trainer and records all meds given to all horses in the care of the Trainer.

  8. The Dark Duke says:

    I stand corrected about the veterinary register thank you Louis. My allegation stands that the horse was administered medication before the barrier trial.

  9. Siva says:

    Hey you guys remember McCreedy and Patrick Wynne .Helll they used to win nearly every 2 year old first timer .Remember Helinitha
    something like that name won by about 16 lenghts first time out

  10. Mashie says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Mr Goosen. Gold Circle are accountable for the goings on in barrier trials. Some horses are advertised for sale post barrier trials based on performance but who knows what medications they were administered prior.
    So much for transparency, horse welfare and jockey safety. There are a few clowns in that circus who need to be removed.

  11. Dylan says:

    I have to agree with LG, it’s a complete waste of time and money and so boring to watch and causes more confusion in the race card than anything else! There is a lot more to focus on in Racing than this [email protected]$!

  12. The quote is from Leon Megginson of Louisiana, not Charles Darwin.

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