Talking Horses: Jim and Suzi Best lament ongoing licence restrictions

Chris Cook
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Jim and Suzi Best have voiced their frustration that conditions are still being attached to the latter’s training licence, more than three years after the end of a six-month suspension Jim was handed by a disciplinary panel. It is a particular bone of contention that the couple are obliged to attend the races separately when she has a runner because he is not then allowed into restricted areas, such as the paddock or the owners and trainers bar.

“It just doesn’t feel fair any more,” said Suzi Best, who trains 18 horses at the Lewes yard where Jim trained until the troubled disciplinary process that dragged on through 2016. “During the time I’ve held my licence, I’ve been subject to six-monthly yard inspections, as opposed to yearly.

Related: Talking Horses: plan to push back Grand National could be a non-starter

“I’ve been completely transparent and fully abiding to all the restrictions but it’s time now that I need to be able to have my husband on board as part of the team. It’s a family business. Owners come to our yard and it’s our home, and we can both welcome them to the yard but when I go to the races with a runner, Jim can’t be a part of it. He’s going in through a separate entrance. If I have a winner, he can’t celebrate it with us.”

Jim said: “I should be able to go racing with my wife and my kids. It’s not like I’ve been trying to get back immediately. It’s four years later.”

Jim’s name was a regular on the racing pages five years ago, when a disciplinary panel found he had asked a conditional jockey to stop two horses and banned him for four years, a ruling that was then quashed because of a possible appearance of bias in relation to the panel that had heard the case. He was once more found in breach when a new panel was convened but the penalty applied was much less severe.

“It seems to me that I’ve done my suspension,” he said on Wednesday. “To still not be able to go racing with my family, it feels like the British Horseracing Authority are going back to the original panel that gave me that four-year ban. Suzi’s had a clean licence, had success and why should she not be treated like any other trainer?”

Rather than comment, the BHA pointed to the recent verdict of Brian Barker QC, who has served since 2017 as the chair of its independent licensing committee and judicial panel. Barker agreed with Suzi Best that some of the original 10 conditions on her licence could be dispensed with but ruled that four must be maintained, including the one that restricts Jim’s racecourse access.

Barker said he was trying to strike a balance “between integrity being upheld and seen to be upheld, and the freedom to train under the rules”. He had heard arguments from the BHA, which wanted to keep eight of the original conditions on grounds including “the potential consequences for the perception and integrity of horseracing” if all were removed.

“It’s gone on for too long now,” Suzi Best said on Wednesday. “You kind of feel you’re being victimised. I haven’t done anything wrong and I feel like we’ve served our time. I’d like to move forward, to be able to push the business forward, try and get new owners on board. You feel like it’s a dark shadow over you, that Jim can’t be fully a part of it, that it’s a black mark against my name.”

“I don’t think it’s right,” Jim said. “A lot of owners, I’m friends with, I’ve known them years, and to not be able to go and support their horse at the races, or go in the owners and trainers and have a drink with them when they have a winner … it’s what owners want, they want to see me there.”

Cheltenham Festival stat of the day, by Paul Ferguson

Gordon Elliott has trained the past three winners of the Pertemps Final. All three wore headgear and all three wore a tongue-tie. Since 2016, Elliott has saddled only three horses with this combination and the results are impeccable. Take note of any Elliott runner who matches this profile next month.

The Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2021, written by Paul Ferguson, is published on 26 February, priced £15.95. Talking Horses readers can obtain a £4 discount by using the promotion code ‘GDN21’ when placing an order.

Thursday’s best bets

Oh boy, it’s Interconnected day. It’s almost two years since Darren Yates went to £620,000 for him, setting a record for a jumps horse at auction, and today he will finally carry Yates’s colours, at Huntingdon.

He missed last season with a tendon strain, Dan Skelton reckoning the time off might be no bad thing for such a big horse. This is a very winnable race but it’s not a great sign that such a modest beginning has been sought out for him. I’d rather take 5-2 about Hamilton Dici (12.30) going out in front and staying there. He’s an ex-French type who should have more to offer, having joined Kim Bailey since scoring on his British debut in December.

Bailey could double up in the next, as he fields Lady Of The Night (1.00), a big old thing from the family of Party Politics who turned in an improved effort when second at Exeter in December. She got most of her rivals in trouble with her relentless galloping that day and I think she’ll fare better again on this less testing surface. She’s attracting support at 7-4 as I type.

Huntingdon 12.30 Hamilton Dici 1.00 Lady Of The Night (nb) 1.30 Antunes 2.05 Ellens Way 2.35 Native Robin (nap) 3.05 Quiana 3.35 Wavering Dawn

Chepstow 1.20 Champagne Rhythm 1.55 Eamon An Cnoic 2.27 Dunbar 2.57 Blackjack Kentucky 3.27 Arian 4.00 Dont Be Robin 4.35 Prime Pretender

Sedgefield 2.12 Democratic Oath 2.42 Furius De Ciergues 3.12 Chinwag 3.42 McCrackens Gate 4.15 Calarules 4.45 Palixandre 5.15 Oscars Leader

Southwell 5.30 Passional 6.00 Three C’s 6.30 Mehmento 7.00 Lord Oberon 7.30 Inexplicable 8.00 Aria Rose 8.30 Navajo Dawn

Un Prophete was on the brink of winning when taking a late fall at Fontwell last week in a race that was exhausting just to watch. He’s a brave horse if he can run to his best so soon after and I’ll take 7-2 about the consistent Native Robin (2.35) instead.