Progress was claimed by the British Horseracing Board yesterday in attempts to improve the conditions of lowly-paid stable staff. Racing's treatment of its staff received damning treatment in the BHB-commissioned Donoughue Report published last June.
Greg Nichols, the board's chief executive, gave an upbeat report into the ongoing work being done to benefit workers in stables. In the shadow of Lord Donoughue's report, a BHB Stable and Stud Staff Steering Group has been meeting regularly under the leadership of Baroness Ann Mallalieu. A year on from their first meeting, Mallalieu insisted much had been done to implement the report's recommendations.
Although some areas such as pension provision and overtime payments remained outstanding, negotiations are underway between the Stable Lads' Association and the National Trainers Federation.
Meanwhile no less than 75 per cent of the Don-oughue Report's recommendations have already either been implemented or are in the process of being so, Nicholls said.
These include the establishment of an anti-bullying and harassment policy - the wording of which was agreed by Racing Welfare, the NTF and the SLA - which has been distributed to all racing stables and the establishment of a telephone line offering 24-hour counselling for those within the sport.
Additional funding has also been agreed for racing's full-time chaplain, Graham Locking, whose work in Newmarket has had particular recent resonance given three suicides this year of grooms working in the town.
SLA inspections of racecourses and co-operation between the SLA and individual tracks have also seen a dramatic improvement in some facilities for travelling staff, including hostels and canteens.
The leadership of the SLA has been bitterly criticised for years by stable lads for failing to press for better pay and conditions. The Association was backed by racing's establishment to try to block recruitment to the Transport & General Workers Union.
It was reported yesterday that an increased level of on-the-job or day-release training has been requested by employees and employers to help reduce the high level of drop-out from within the industry.
"We know we can do better and we intend to do better," Nichols said. "In many ways it has been a very active year and we are proud of everything that has already been achieved.
"But we all have a duty of care towards the people who make our sport what it is and there is more to be done in 2006. We have gone through the painful stage of admitting that there was a very real problem.
"But one of the greatest anonymous successes of the Donoughue Report is that for the first time there is joined-up thinking throughout the sport about where we go from here to put things right." While admitting to some frustration at the slow speed of change in some areas, Mallalieu reported that she was optimistic that more good news would be forthcoming.
"The Donoughue report made for some uncomfortable reading and I think it is to the credit of former BHB chairman Peter Savill and his successor Martin Broughton that they have given such a high priority to its findings," she said.
"Our key priorities at the moment are obviously related to those in the industry now. But our proposals for better and more localised training, and our hopes for improved pay and benefits ought to benefit anybody who comes into the sport in the future."
Last post for Best Mate's ashes
Best Mate's ashes will be laid to rest behind the winning post at Cheltenham prior to racing there on Saturday week.
There will be a brief ceremony on the course at 11am to commemorate Henrietta Knight's star chaser, who died after collapsing at Exeter on 1 November.
Best Mate, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002, 2003 and 2004, was the first triple winner of chasing's blue riband since the mighty Arkle in the 1960s.
In addition, he won his first race in Britain, a bumper, at Cheltenham in November, 1999, and was also successful in a novice chase at the course the following year.
Best Mate's owner Jim Lewis is pleased the great horse will be honoured in a place that will always be in view of the race-going public.
Lewis said: "He was a people's champion and will be at rest at the scene of his greatest triumphs."
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