BOTH Irish trainers and British racecourses have been critical of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) this week as frustration continues to grow with regard to the ban on overseas runners competing in low level handicaps in Britain.
Overseas runners were initially banned from taking part in class five and six handicaps and classified stakes on the flat, and class five handicaps over jumps, as a Covid-19 measure. However, it was announced by the BHA in recent weeks that the ban would remain in place indefinitely.
Regular raiders in Britain such as Gordon Elliott, Johnny Levins and Stuart Crawford have all heavily criticised the measure. Crawford told The Irish Field: “If the measure stays in place, it’s definitely going to affect our business. Those lower grade horses, I’ll end up selling them. The whole reason you go over to Britain is because you can’t find a race in Ireland. The monetary gains are not that high, especially with all the Brexit measures in place and the extra costs that come with that.
“If you do decide to run a low-grade horse in Britain currently, they’ll probably end up in too high a grade for what they are. There is no point in that.”
BHA chief operations officer Richard Wayman has defended the measure, arguing that there has been a disproportionate level of success for Irish trainers in the relevant races, and that the measures serve a part of the British horse population that was coming under pressure from being balloted out of suitable contests.
Those views, along with statistics provided by the BHA, have been contested by various people this week, while plenty of British racecourses have also expressed their disappointment that the ruling remains in place.
Ayr clerk of the course Graeme Anderson told The Irish Field: “Irish runners make a big difference for us at that level, especially through the winter months. The likes of Stuart Crawford and Gordon Elliott are great supporters of us.
“It’s all about runner numbers for us, that’s where the business is. We want to see bigger fields and the Irish trainers help us with that. Unfortunately it’s not up to us and it’s the BHA that makes the rules.”
Crawford went on to add: “Any time that you go to a racecourse over in Britain, they couldn’t be more welcome to overseas runners, particularly whenever you got to the Scottish tracks and the northern tracks which would be the ones I’d usually be supporting.
“They’re glad of the runners. There’s plenty of meetings I’ve been to over the last 10 years where a significant proportion of runners on the card came from Ireland. What do you do if those trainers decide not to come? It would leave a seriously gaping hole.
“Look at the Perth card on Saturday (today), their bumper has attracted four runners and three of them are Irish-trained. And it’s still quite possible the British runner will win it. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Irish runners are going to get the result.
“When there’s such a debate on in England at the moment about field sizes and too many races for the number of horses, it just seems strange that they’re not opening up those races again.”