A racehorse went missing from a racecourse in Wolverhampton just hours before running in the Littlewoods Bet Direct Handicap on Saturday. His disappearance, which is apparently linked to an ownership dispute, cast a doubt over security at racecourse stables.
Five-year-old gelding My Bayard was to run his first race for new trainer John Balding at 8.30pm on Saturday, when he was removed from the Dunstall Park stables. Balding’s travelling head groom checked the horse’s box at 7.15pm and found him gone.
The incident was filmed on CCTV camera and the Jockey Club, which is responsible for racecourse security, showed it to the West Midlands Police. “[It] identified the individual responsible for removing the horse,” says the Jockey Club’s John Maxse. “He was an accredited member of stable staff.”
An arrest followed in the early hours of Sunday morning. “A man has been arrested and released on police bail by South Yorkshire Police on our behalf,” says West Midlands Police spokeswoman, Sarah Kirby.
The man allegedly claimed he was the horse’s rightful owner, although My Bayard ran under the colours of Burntwood Sports, a firm owned by Yorkshire businessman Jack Saul. “Our understanding is that there is a dispute over the horse’s rightful owner and this appears to be behind the removal,” says Maxse.
The gelding’s disappearance was a blow for the Jockey Club, which launched an internal inquiry. The man who took My Bayard didn’t have runners at Wolverhampton on Saturday and should not have been in the stable yard without permission — but he managed to get in and out without being challenged.
“Our inquiry will be precisely into the matter,” explains Maxse, who points out that the man may have had easier access because he was a member of stable staff. “It was not like he was a member of the public. It is not completely unknown for accredited stable staff to be present [in the secure area] even if they don’t have runners.”
The Jockey Club recently upgraded security at racecourses, introducing CCTV into the stable area, and Maxse thinks that CCTV still works as a deterrent, despite My Bayard’s disappearance. “Obviously we are concerned that the incident took place but we are reassured that CCTV filmed it. It has demonstrated that CCTV can play an important role in identifying the individual [responsible].”
Nevertheless, the security blunder at Wolverhampton has prompted the Jockey Club to consider introducing tighter measures.
“We could ask every member of stable staff to sign in and out of the stables but that wouldn’t be practical when leading a horse. We need to find a balance between what’s practical and what’s effective,” says Maxse. “We’ll try to identify whether there are any additional measures we can take which don’t impede staff doing their job.”