Racing: Trainers asked to shed light on shady results: Jockey Club aims to inform punters of reasons for defeat

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The Independent Online
IN AN age when winning seems to be everything, the average punter - if only thanks to many hours of practice - still accepts defeat with surprising equanimity. Yet, when a horse runs unexpectedly well or badly with no explanation offered, it can reduce an entire betting shop to white-faced rage.

Thanks to a new initiative by the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Committee, backers will soon be told more about the reasons - some prefer 'excuses' - offered by trainers in such circumstances. Following resistance by the National Trainers' Federation, however, the flow of information will be considerably less than the Club had originally envisaged.

The Committee's initial proposal was based on the system which operates in Ireland, whereby the trainer of any horse can formally enter an explanation of its performance shortly after a race. One problem, though, is that when an excuse for defeat is not registered, one cannot be produced at a later date if the horse suddenly improves. As a result, the connections of a beaten runner tend to offer an explanation just in case.

'We were very worried about the misuse of the system, which is what can happen in Ireland,' Peter Cundell, the secretary of the NTF, said yesterday. 'At the moment, if a horse improves dramatically and you haven't got an explanation you'll be in trouble, but if you've already registered one, the stewards' hands are tied. The connections would be laughing at them, which isn't good for the image of racing.'

Cundell also believes that too much information can be a bad thing. 'There are so many reasons why horses run disappointingly, and if you provide too much negative information it might actually put them off the whole thing. You might have a race with eight runners, all of which have at one stage had a veterinary problem. The punter will think they've all got something wrong with them. Another point is that a horse might bleed once, because it's got a virus, but once it's on record it's doomed, you'd never sell it. That could be very bad for the bloodstock industry.'

In the face of these fierce objections, the Jockey Club has reached a compromise (of sorts) which places the burden of effort upon the stipendiary stewards rather than trainers. In cases where the stewards are considering a formal inquiry, they may ask the trainer concerned for an informal explanation. If satisfactory, this would be made public and the matter would rest, though a full inquiry would remain an option if the stewards were not satisfied.

Since the results of a formal inquiry are already made public, however, it remains to be seen if a great deal more information will be available to punters than at present. The proposals also concentrate on well-fancied horses running unaccountably badly, which does little to tackle the problem of non-triers. These are, almost by definition, little- fancied and simply covered up in midfield, rather than tailed-off after a furlong.

Any move to increase the information available to punters is to be welcomed. Until more trainers are called to account when their horses are not 'off', however, the battle has only just begun.