The British Horseracing Association (BHA) has defended its decision to fine trainer Henry Oliver, citing that the rule to discourage trainers and representatives from encouraging horses to start, “is there for good reason”.
Horseracing’s regulatory body has received backlash over the £140 penalty from Sir Anthony McCoy and Nicky Henderson, following its decision to sanction the acclaimed trainer at Uttoxeter this weekend.
Schedule five on starting procedures rules that no trainer nor representative is allowed to initiate the start of a race without the permission of the starter, and under no circumstances will the trainer or representative be allowed to encourage their horse physically, verbally or using any other means to leave the stalls or jump off in a race.
Oliver was found guilty of misconduct for having “encouraged BURRENBRIDGE HOTEL (IRE), which had been reluctant to line up, by waving his arms behind the gelding”, as revealed in the stewards’ report.
The BHA statement justifying the ruling triggered the backlash from the jockey and trainer. It stated: “Trainers are not permitted to encourage their horses to start, and that rule is there for good reason. We set a lot of store in our sport behind the fact that we do not force horses to race and they do so on their own free will.
“Moreover, in the interests of a fair, even start, individual horses should not have the attentions of a trainer or representative to get them on their way. For these reasons only the jockeys and starters are permitted to effect or influence the start.
“Once the rule has been breached then a penalty will follow, otherwise the rule is not enforceable. However, we have an appeal system and Mr Oliver is able to appeal his penalty should he wish.”
McCoy expressed his dismay towards the ruling, tweeting: “And for such stupidity I’m going to block @BHAStewards in case I end up reading again such embarrassing rubbish. How can our sport have such appalling decision makers in charge?”
Meanwhile Oliver, who is yet to decide whether he will contest the penalty, argued that horses racing on The Flats are effectively encouraged into racing. He told The Racing Post: “I haven’t really thought about whether to appeal – £140 isn’t going to make a lot of difference to my life but it just seems a bit petty really.
“I don’t think it helps racing’s cause by making attention out of things like this, rather than having a quiet word and giving me a warning.
“The starters were fantastic and I told the stewards that I wouldn’t have got in their way as that’s their job.
“It’s quite frustrating as everyone puts so many hours into their horses to get them to the races. Everyone is trying to do the best by their horses.”
Henderson came out in support of Oliver, having emphasised that horses that race on the Flat are actively encouraged to race, by being placed in the stalls by stall handlers. He said: “If they are talking about giving horses free will about starting then what about at the stalls on the Flat, when ten burly and brilliant men shove, heave and lift horses into the stalls when the horse says no?
“The BHA is baffling at the moment, coming out with more and more bizarre instructions. I despair.
“First there was the instruction on wearing hind shoes, which should be left to the trainer to decide what is best for the horse.
“How are punters going to feel about horses being allowed to decide whether to start or not?”
The horse, owned by Henderson, had positioned itself close to the fence when approaching the beginning of the 2m4f handicap chase. An inquiry has since been held, where Henderson had been interviewed and shown the recording of the incident.
He commented: “Burrenbridge Hotel has been here a while and probably needs a change of scenery. The Skelton horse who won the novice hurdle wouldn’t walk out the paddock so they were waving their arms at that too.
“Our horse planted near the start so I went down there to tell Sam [Twiston-Davies] to get off him and the horse will go forward as that’s how he is at home.
“I hadn’t asked for permission but with the race times pushed back our horse had planted with the delay, so I was just trying to give him every chance of running his race.
“As we were away from the start I raised my arms to get him away from the fence, where he had stopped, and when the starters got behind him I stayed away.
“As far as I’m concerned I was a furlong away from the start. I understand they don’t want people doing that, which is fine, but I was just trying to give my horse every chance of running his race.”
Insider Insight: The fine, whilst made with good intentions, has raised some eyebrows among the racing community. It has been suggested that waving arms about won’t encourage a horse to do something it is already reluctant to do.
However, rules are there for a reason, and Oliver – a former-jockey himself – should know that already. It appears that this is going to be just another challenge the BHA will have to overcome in 2019.