A new rule introduced by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has been criticised by the National Trainers’ Federation (NTF). Under the new guidelines, trainers are required to declare when one of their horses is competing after wind surgery. As a racehorse inhales around 60 litres of air on every stride, tiny imperfections in their airways can lead to a major disadvantage.
In recent years, owners and trainers have opted to have their horses operated on. As well as increasing oxygen flow to the horse’s lungs, the removal of any breathing inhibitions also puts the runner in better health and, therefore, a safer position during the race. As wind surgery has become more common, tipsters and racing experts have noticed performance improvements.
Although data to back up these assertions is scant, it’s believed that horses running after surgery are capable of hitting better times. With this being the case, the BHA has stipulated that all horses competing for the first time after wind surgery must be marked. The rule will come into effect on 19 January and will see race listings contain the letters “WS”. Any team failing to disclose surgery will be found in breach of the new racing code and could have their licence suspended or revoked.
Commenting on the move, the NTF called it poor regulation on a number of levels. In the first instance, trainers are skeptical about the impact wind surgery has on a horse’s performance. Although anecdotal evidence seems to suggest there are improvements, that small sample size and lack of empirical data calls into question the necessity of the ruling according to the NTF.
On a practical level, the organisation representing British trainers believes the new laws will be almost impossible to police. Aside from the logistics of testing horses in the UK, the NTF is worried that international runners could fly under the radar. If that were to be the case, then British prospects would find themselves at a disadvantage if it can be shown that wind surgery is beneficial.
Moreover, foreign horses aren’t being properly investigated. Responding to the criticisms, Robin Mounsey, the BHA’s head of media, told The Guardian that the agency is confident in its intelligence-gathering capabilities. Mounsey said that the logistics of the new system are still being worked on and that the BHA is willing to listen to trainers:
"We are still involved in the process of drawing up the penalty structure and we will take on board the views of participants in that process. But ultimately, we are the regulator and we will determine a penalty structure that we deem is appropriate to be both a deterrent and also proportionate."
While the NTF has hit out at the BHA, betting industry insiders have welcomed the news. A recent survey by the Horseracing Bettors Forum found that a lack of information regarding wind surgery was a concern for regular punters. With debates raging as to how much of a difference a procedure can make, it naturally follows that bettors could be at a disadvantage without all of the facts.
Indeed, a horse racing immediately after surgery might see 5% improvement in their race time, which could, in theory, affect the outcome of a race and render the starting odds inaccurate. Conflicting opinions aside, the rule will come into effect at the start of 2018 and could bring about more changes in the way horseracing takes place in the UK.
With the BHA looking to tighten up regulations and drive out unfair practices from the sport, there could be yet more friction between the governing body and the NTF. Continue to check back here with Gambling.com News as we cover this developing story very closely for horseracing betting fans.