Talking Horses: evening meetings to finish earlier in mental health drive?

Greg Wood
<span>Photograph: Tim Goode/PA</span>
Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

Tracks which hold evening meetings in high summer could be obliged to run their final race by 9pm or even earlier in 2020 as the sport explores ways to ease the relentlessness of its workload. An increase in the number of “code-free” days, when only Flat or jumps meetings are scheduled, is also likely in the 2020 fixture list, which is currently being finalised ahead of its publication later this month.

The demands that racing’s year-round schedule can place on its workforce were highlighted as a key area of concern by Annamarie Phelps, the BHA’s new chair, in a speech to the Racehorse Owners Association on Tuesday.

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Her remarks were given added emphasis in Wednesday’s Racing Post, when Roderick Duncan, Doncaster’s clerk of the course, told the sport’s trade paper that he suffered a breakdown last year in which anxiety, exhaustion and stress were contributory factors.

“I was at home and I didn’t go outside for a week,” Duncan told the Post. “I couldn’t talk to anybody or face anyone. I’ve had serious physical injury, falling off horses and breaking things as anyone in our sort of sport does, but this was like no experience I’d ever had before – you’ve just lost control of your emotions, effectively.”

Racing’s fixture list must balance the demands of racecourses and the retail and online betting industries while also prioritising the needs and welfare of a workforce of around 20,000 full- and part-time employees.

Despite a widespread belief among many in the industry that there is “too much racing”, the 2020 fixture list seems unlikely to drop significantly below the 1,511 meetings which were scheduled for 2019.

However, a further attempt will be made to ease some of racing’s day-to-day demands, including an extension of a policy introduced this year on final race times at winter floodlit cards to include high-summer evening meetings both on the Flat and over jumps.

In 2018, there were 151 floodlit evening meetings with a final race at 8.40pm or later, including 51 at which the last went off at 9pm or later. From 2019, however, all floodlit meetings were required to have a final race no later than 8.30pm. This, the BHA said last year, was a move “to support jockeys and racing staff”, and “designed to help alleviate some of the demands that the fixture list might place on their physical and mental wellbeing through extensive travel and late working hours.”

An extension of this policy to include high-summer turf meetings would force many more tracks to change the scheduling of their last race and, as a result, of their first race too.

Ripon, for example, ran its final race on 19 June at 9.20pm, while Ayr, Bath, Ffos Las, Hamilton, Aintree, Pontefract and Perth have all staged cards already this summer at which the last race was later than 9pm. Nine more tracks, including Newmarket, where Friday evening cards attract huge crowds, have run meetings with a last race at 9pm.

Some smaller tracks rely heavily on bumper crowds on summer evenings to balance their books and will be concerned that an earlier start could have an impact on attendance as racegoers struggle to get to the course after work. With the BHA committed to doing all it can to ease the pressures of racing’s workload wherever possible, however, the racecourses will have little option but to comply with the new policy.

The number of “code-free” days is also likely to rise next year. The 2019 fixture list included a six-day break for Flat racing in November and another five-day break in March, while there is also at least one code-free Sunday per month in the summer months. Jumping, meanwhile, currently has two breaks of eight days and five days. A four-day “blank” between from 22 December to Christmas day this year could also be retained.

Will Lambe, the BHA’s executive director, said on Wednesday that “the whole of British racing should be grateful” to Duncan “for speaking so openly, and powerfully.”

Lambe added: “Credit should also go to ARC [Arena Racing Company] as his employer, the doctor at Doncaster whose advice was clearly invaluable and those around him for the support they have provided. In Racing Welfare our sport has a charity of which we should be very proud, and its range of confidential services is available to all.

“As with the recent report Racing Welfare commissioned, the picture Roderick paints is, sadly, not an unfamiliar one. The flip side of a sport in many ways sustained by the passion of those working within it is one that can become all-encompassing and create considerable pressures on individuals.

“In the short term, removing the stigma associated with talking about mental ill-health will go a long way, as will those within British racing doing a little more to understand and respect others’ positions. We all have a role to play in this, including the racing media.”

Thursday’s best bets

Twelve winners from 28 rides in seven days have moved Danny Tudhope alongside Oisin Murphy at the top of the three-way race for the jockeys’ championship, and he is now no bigger than 5-1 to win his first title having been a 25-1 shot at the end of May.

Tudhope is lagging behind both Murphy and Silvestre de Sousa in terms of the number of rides he has taken this season, which is never a positive sign when a rider is hoping to be crowned champion. His strike-rate, though, remains exceptional at no less than 25pc – 55 wins from 219 rides – which has allowed him to match Murphy’s total so far of 55 from 311.

Tudhope will be hoping to maintain his momentum today, when he has just two rides on the card at Haydock ahead of a Friday and Saturday on the northern circuit.

Tukhoom (3.30) looks like his best chance of a winner, when the six-year-old makes his first start for the in-form David O’Meara having switched stables after a four-length win in a claimer at Redcar on 21 June. He registered a very decent time in that race and has been competitive off higher ratings than his current mark of 77 in the past.

Tudhope has a live contender for the feature race too in Southern Rock, but Dal Horrisigle (4.00) looked like a horse on a rapid rise when successful at Nottingham last time and should extend his winning streak to three. Battle Of Wills (2.00) also has strong claims at the same meeting, while Chitra (8.00) and Sir Busker (7.45) look best on the strong evening cards at Newbury and Epsom Downs respectively.

Haydock Park 2.00 Battle Of Wills, 2.30 Buhturi, 3.00 Path Of Thunder, 3.30 Tukhoom 4.00 Dal Horrisigle (nap) 4.30 Arletta Star 5.00 Dapper Man 
Perth 2.10 Mega Double, 2.40 Angel's Envy 3.10 Welcome Ben 3.40 Frightened Rabbit 4.10 Viens Chercher 4.40 Roll Of Thunder 5.10 Amalfi Doug  

Yarmouth 2.20 Precious Plum, 2.50 Iffraaz, 3.20 Cape Victory, 3.50 Waqt (nb), 4.20 Magical Ride, 4.50 Cheng Gong, 5.20 Banksy's Art 

Newbury 5.45 Edged Out, 6.20 So Sharp, 6.55 Ethic, 7.25 Logician, 8.00 Chitra, 8.30 Carp Kid, 9.00 Mandocello 

Epsom Downs  6.05 Be Perfect, 6.40 Diva Kareem, 7.15 Handytalk, 7.45 Sir Busker, 8.20 Hermocrates, 8.50 Ashazuri 

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