Kim Bailey: ‘Racing was not shown in a good light’


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  • Kim Bailey reflects on a day of “ruined” racing and modernising the sport

    Saturday’s racing at Ascot was ruined by the unseasonal drying ground conditions. As a result, racing was not shown in a good light on terrestrial TV. A walkover and a two-horse race on a big racing Saturday really is not good enough. Paying customers want to see good racing and horses, but small fields have plagued us all summer and again this autumn.

    Trainer Nicky Henderson took the decision not to run the day’s star attraction, Constitution Hill. Nicky has broad shoulders, as do all trainers who know these decisions cause headaches and heartaches for the racecourse, racegoers and the expectant TV viewers, who could all too quickly be turned away to watch and support another sport.

    But the horse’s welfare must come first and, sadly, so few people really understand the damage that can be done by jarring a horse on fast ground.

    It is not a telephone conversation any trainer wants to make to their owners after calling it incorrectly.

    Many years ago, I was due to run my Champion Hurdle winner Alderbrook at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth, but on walking the course, I felt it was not soft enough for his fragile legs, which I have to say were not his best feature. I recall Stan Clarke, the owner of the course, taking me aside and trying his best to persuade me to run.

    I would not back down, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I was letting down expectant racegoers and punters. I was that indignant that I asked to be given a microphone, so that I could publicly apologise and explain why I had made my decision to those who were racing. Was it good PR? I don’t know, but Stan Clarke appreciated that I made that call and thanked me.

    It has been a shocking autumn, but surely it is down to the clerks of the course to be honest in their appraisal of the ground. I am always being asked by owners as to why I am not running their horse when clerks are calling it good ground, but I have found that sometimes the description of the ground is not as it seems.

    Ascot had watered on Friday night to try to keep to their forecasted ground, something all too many racecourses are doing. Bizarrely, though, twice in the past three weeks, I have taken a horse to the races only for it to be abandoned as we were saddling – due to heavy rain and waterlogging. Racecourse ground is apparently drinking the rain like a parched drunk!

    Scarface ridden by Tom Cannon on their way to winning the raceshare.com Racehorse Shares from £39 Novices' Hurdle on November Racing Weekend on the Saturday at Ascot Racecourse in 2022

    Scarface ridden by Tom Cannon on his way to winning the Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot

    Attracting the next generation

    Racing has many issues to sort out to keep modernising, but one area that I believe most have not thought about is that the biggest percentage of young staff coming into racing are female.

    Please don’t think I am being sexist for one second, but the greater proportion of females coming to work in racing has resulted in a huge uptake of female jockeys, which is wonderful for the sport, and that number will only increase over time.

    We now take seeing the likes of Rachael Blackmore, Bryony Frost and Hollie Doyle in both Flat racing and jump racing for granted, even though it was not that long ago that the thought of a champion jockey being female was a non-starter.

    One big word of caution is that racecourses need to sort their changing- and weighing-room facilities to accommodate female jockeys. Taunton, Leicester, Sandown and Fakenham are just some of the racecourses who have made huge efforts to make life acceptable for them.

    At least gone are the days when females would walk through the men’s changing rooms to weigh out. Well, have they?

    ● Do you agree with Kim’s thoughts? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com including your full name, nearest town and county for the chance to have your thoughts published in a future issue of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 17 November 2022

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