Friday, December 06, 2013


The December Sales have been and gone, all two weeks (well, part of two weeks anyway) of them.  And they've been and gone without me.  Even knowing that I am not one of those people who forget that what goes on at the sales is much, much less important than what goes on on the racecourse, I still am slightly surprised by how little attention I paid to them.  Well, I paid them attention (which is just as well: if you see the Irish Racing Review annual, you'll see that I've written a long - and I hope not too boring - review of the sales year, so it behoves me to pay attention) but just didn't attend them.  I didn't see a single horse sold, and the only horse I saw at all was the 2011 Oaks winner Dancing Rain, whom we used to see plenty of when she was in training (as this paragraph suggests) but who is now in foal to Frankel.  Liam and Jenny Norris were kind enough to show her to me and let me make a fuss of her, which was lovely - and it was great for them that she sold so well (4 million guineas) as not only did they consign her, but Liam had bought her as a yearling for her owners (for 200,000 euros) in the first place.

I might, therefore, have missed the December Sales, but I couldn't, of course, miss Butlergate.  Nobody could have done that.  There's not really anything to say on the verdict and sentence.  Gerard has received a very stiff punishment, but then his crime was very bad.  Five years' warning off is an extremely stiff punishment: five years during which he can have no racing-related contact with any racing person, cannot set foot on a racecourse or training stable or training ground - although, curiously, recent years have suggested that warned-off people can in practice go to the sales, as I'm sure that I saw Howard Johnson at Tattersalls one time when I was under the impression that he was warned off.  And at the end of the five years, while Gerard will be able to go to the races and work in stables, he would still have a mountain to climb if he were to try to start training again.  And don't forget the financial penalty: unless he is to keep paying his staff for doing nothing, he's now facing a big redundancy bill, and he might very well be renting his (now empty) stables for maybe another three months while his notice runs its course.  The thousands don't take too long to become tens of thousands.

So that's that. He's received a very stiff punishment, but it fits the crime, because he has shown shocking disregard for the rules of racing and for the law of the land.  However, I think that the BHA is being very harsh in saying that he's shown serious disregard for the welfare of his horses - or, rather, I believe that he has, but I'm surprised that the BHA thinks the same way; because, as I see things, if he has, then most other trainers have done so too.  I think that what the BHA means is that he's shown a serious disregard for their welfare by injecting the horses themselves rather than have a vet do the job, but that's nonsense: the BHA has just swallowed the line of vets being these saints who have this special understanding of horses which the rest of us lack.  Which is, of course, absolute nonsense, and there have been all too many times when I've uttered the sentence, "Well, if a vet thinks that that's a good idea, he should be struck off".

I can see why the law exists which says that it's a crime to carry out an act of veterinary surgery unless you are a qualified vet.  It's a good law, designed to prevent the man in the street from amputating his dog's leg to save on vet's bills.  But in a case such as this, Gerard would have been just as able to inject the horse as any vet - and better able to do it than most.  Injecting into a joint is a difficult procedure and it's not uncommon for it to go wrong; and when it goes wrong, it's generally fatal.  It's important to get it right.  Gerard might have got it wrong, just as any vet might have got it wrong - and plenty have done so over the years.  But I'd put my money on Gerard against most vets - but, of course, the official line is that a vet doing it is fine (whether or not it works) while Gerard doing so is wrong.  Which, legally, it is - but we're overlooking the fact that Gerard has a 100% success rate of doing it safely and correctly, a success rate which many vets would envy.  And, of couse, we're also overlooking the fact that the horses in question thrived afterwards to such an extent that, when they resumed racing, they all ran really well (which was not because of the drugs which they had had, but because of the rest which was forced upon them by being barred from racing for six months) - which they wouldn't have done had their welfare been so seriously harmed at the start of the year.  Read the BHA's suggestion and you'd think that they were dead, not so much in the peak of health and fitness that they were winning races.

Where I think that Gerard was showing disregard for the welfare of his horses is by injecting the horses' joints at all, irrespective of who performed the injection - but that's something which the majority of trainers do on a regular basis.  You might not know what I'm talking about, so I'll explain.  A principle by which I abide is that a small problem generally (but, sadly, not always) goes away with rest, but gets worse with continued work.  The reason why horses' joints are injected is because they are developing small problems - which gives one a choice of either resting the horse, or carrying on.  And if one carries on, the problem is going to get worse.  So, the solution?  Inject an anti-inflammatory to take away the heat and soreness, make the horse less aware of the damage and make the trainer less worried about and less aware of the horse's injury - thus making it easier to carry on working and racing the horse, and thus making the injury worse.

I can understand why trainers love to use anti-inflammatories.  It makes it much, much harder to assess just how much wear and tear the horse is suffering; and makes it much, much harder to make a correct decision as to whether it is safe to press on with a horse who is starting to show signs of wear and tear, or whether the risk of him suffering a catastrophic breakdown is becoming too high.  But experience has shown time and again that, if one takes the correct decision to give a horse struggling to cope with things a spell to let the aches and pains sort themselves out in their own time, one is very likely to find the horse moving to a different stable when he returns to training.  So the pressure to keep going with a horse, to try to paper over the cracks, is huge - but it does nothing but increase the risk of a horse breaking down.  So, as I see it, an announcement  by the BHA that using anti-inflammatories is showing insufficient concern for one's horses welfare was a surprise: it's something which I believe, but I was surprised to find that the BHA believes it too.  My opinion of trainers who use anti-inflammatories as a matter of course when horses are finding things tough is not high - I'm just surprised that the BHA takes the same view.

Oh yes, one bit of the December Sales fortnight which I didn't miss was the chance to accept Kirsten Rausing's hospitality at Lanwades to see five lovely stallions including the magnificent Leroidesanimaux; and then to go to Longholes Stud to see four young stallions including Nathaniel, Havana Gold (just back from his abortive raid on the Flemington Carnival) and the beautiful Al Kazeem - on what was one of the few beautiful winter days we've had recently, with the clear skies remaining right until dusk, as you can see with Wasabi and Gift waiting by the gate to come back in for their tea.


neil kearns said...

As usual an interesting take on events forgetting the Butler bit for a moment your comment re the use of anti inflammatory drugs says a lot for your view of training over those of many of your fellow trainers .
Personally I am 100% in agreement with you as the other solution is tantamount to animal cruelty . However if we accept racing is also a buisness then the pressure on/temptation to run horses through niggling injuries is great and unless one bans all drugs - which is fair enough to me - then we cannot argue with trainers using these drugs.
However the check and balance to this use of these drugs has to be that only vets should administer them - and whilst Butler and others may indeed be capable even very competent in administering the drug - fact is if you want to stop a drugs free for all it cannot be allowed to happen.
Any way may I suggest a coffee table book / vanity project of photos from a racing yard some of your recent efforts have been seriously good love the last one in today's blog

Alan March said...

I must say John that your views are always refreshing and you don't hide your opinion or sit on the fence. From reading the BHA report (and I did) I think he was lucky to just get 5 years (even though that is effectively a life ban). He deliberately cheated, bought illegal drugs, administered them (breaking vials in the process, so clearly no vet) and bullied staff to go along. He deserves a life ban. Is it coincidence that he was reacting to poor results and falling income? The man was an immoral cheat, no sympathy.
That doesn't let the shambolic BHA off the hook though. Nine trainers have got away with cheating too and the cover up over Al Zarooni still leaves a festering pile lying under the carpet which the BHA pretends to ignore. And if Johnson is hanging around the sales then the stench is spreading. There's a man (who comes from my home town, interest declared) who should never be allowed near a horse.
I totally agree about the use of anti inflammatories, I'm sure they are needed at times but as you say they are masking a weakness. Is it not just an extension of the use of lasix etc in the USA, hiding problems in the physical makeup of a horse in order to get it to run. And the inevitable passing on of weaknesses in the breed?
The sport needs to wake up, there is a problem and 2013 has not been a good year off the track. Rant over!!