GROUP 1-winning trainer Ado McGuinness has warned that Horse Racing Ireland [HRI] is in danger of running new owners out of the sport, and putting small trainers out of business, by introducing new ‘quality control’ measures.

From the start of the new flat turf season horses with a rating of less than 40 (currently 38) will be the first to be balloted out of all races. The minimum flat rating band will now be 47-65 (up from 45-65).

Jason Morris, HRI’s director of racing, said the changes were part of “quality control measures” and merely restored a position that applied for many years. “This is to give higher rated horses a better chance of getting a run against the background of increased numbers of horses in training (up 18% last year) and a consequent significant rise in the number of horses which were being balloted out.”

Morris acknowledged that horses rated below 40 would find it harder to get a run. “That said we try to divide as many races as possible, and for instance we have added additional fixtures over the winter months which has meant that most horses have been able to get a run when desired at Dundalk in recent months.”

Asked if the new measures were likely to lead to horses being taken out of training, Morris said: “It will be up to horses’ connections to decide whether they feel their horses can be competitive or whether they should consider re-investing in new stock.”

The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association were consulted on the new directives but McGuinness says trainers did not agree with the rise in the minimum flat rating band. He believes HRI wants to discourage owners and trainers from importing ‘second-hand’ horses from English yards, and instead invest in yearlings.

“These low-grade handicaps were my bread and butter for many years, and helped me to get established,” he said. “If you look at the typical owners at Dundalk on a Friday night, they are syndicates who take a table and enjoy their night out. They don’t expect to make money but they expect to get a chance to run.

“They cannot afford to buy a decent yearling. They would not be prepared to pay training fees for a year before the horse runs.”

Restricted trainer Denis Coakley commented: “Nobody sets out to buy a bad horse but older horses can easily slip below 50 and get into a downward spiral, sometimes being dropped 5lb or more without leaving their box. Raising the minimum flat handicap band to 47-65 will affect a lot of horses. Personally I think any owner prepared to pay training fees should have the same opportunity to run as any other owner.”

Both McGuinness and Coakley accepted that HRI has done a good job putting on extra races and fixtures when needed.

John Fitzgerald, chairman of the Restricted Trainers Association, said he was very disappointed with the move, which he sees as “an attempt to remove a band of horses from Irish racing”. He said: “We are the only racing jurisdiction that uses this system of pushing out at the bottom. Other authorities facilitate these horses and create races, whether in France or the UK.”

New HRI directives: main points

  • Minimum flat handicap rating band will be 47-65 (up from 45-65). No balloting protection for horses rated below 40 (up from 38)
  • No upper age limit on horses running in bumpers and no limit on number of bumper runs.
  • Winners after publication of handicap weights will get 7lb penalty (was 6lb on flat, 5lb over jumps)