Classic Winners

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It was nearly twenty years ago that a very special lady got me interested in the sport of kings by asking me to place a bet on a horse called Legal Right tipped by the Guardian columnist Marcel Berlins. It was a success and from then on I was hooked.

In the years that have followed I have improved my knowledge of the game immensely and It is around this time of year that my excitement really builds in anticipation of the start of a new flat season. The first of the four classics are run in early May and we see how the previous autumn’s two year old stars have trained on. This time around the ‘Boys in blue’ at Godolphin have a really smart prospect called Pinatubo who I am sure they are anxious to unleash. Their rivals across the sea in Ireland at Ballydoyle will have their own plans to add to their impressive haul of winners.

All that said, as with almost everything else my thoughts often turn to the politics of racing. I am afraid to say we are unlikely to find many high profile Liberals amongst the stars of the sport. Having read interviews with Frankie Dettori I can confirm that he is most definitely a Tory. Rachel Hood wife of his current employer champion trainer John Gosden applied to be Conservative candidate for West Suffolk (the Constituency that includes Newmarket) awhile back and I know from my time as a resident of Newbury that the other big racing centre Lambourn is also a true blue stronghold.

Turning to some other issues, personally I don’t bet on the jumps because of the number of falls and related fatalities, I  have concerns about the working conditions of stable and betting shop staff. There are also a lot of issues around the link with gambling and the behaviour of the betting companies. The decision by the government to restrict the stake on FOBTs may have helped to alleviate some of the problems with debt caused by excessive betting but there are still people who get themselves into trouble chasing losses in other areas including on the horses.

Between now and the next General Election I would dearly love to see our party, the Liberal Democrats, develop a comprehensive set of policies relating to the racing industry. Where do we stand on the welfare of the horses? What do we have to say about the working conditions of those employed in this sector? What is our attitude to the betting companies?

It is not only right that we do this but it would also assist our campaigners in those areas where racing predominates. I know it is a bit of a tall order but it would be great to see us having some classic winners of our own in Epsom or Newmarket in the years ahead. Does anyone want to give me odds?

NOTE: The 2020 flat racing season officially starts on the 28th March at Doncaster

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • Brian Edmonds 12th Mar '20 - 5:38pm

    Another crucial issue of burning concern to the nation. Just the sort of thing we should debate at the next conference…

  • Not of burning concern to some, perhaps, but of great concern to many living is specific constituencies eg in the Newmarket, rural Berkshire, North Yorkshire areas. Britain is a world leader in the racing industry and the breeding industry which supports it. It provides tens of thousands of jobs, not just in racing yards and stud farms but feed suppliers, transport companies, veterinary practices and. of course, betting shops. Go to the Newmarket Sales in the autumn and you will see ridiculously expensive horses being sold to overseas buyers and British horse races are screened across the world as our racing is known to have greater integrity than in other countries. In short, it’s an industry worth hundreds of millions to the country every year.
    First thing the party needs to do is to let the racing community know that we understand their value to the economy. Labour has never understood that, the Tories used to but seem to have forgotten. Ireland recognises the importance of their racing and breeding industry and levies a special low rate of 2% VAT on racing and stud services.. We could do something similar.
    In terms of horse welfare, anyone who has actually been involved in the industry will confirm that racehorses and breeding stock are pampered in a way that few other animals are. Public concerns over horses have been addressed by the racing authorities and the modern whip is highly padded and you would be hard pressed to do a lot of damage with it, even if you were inclined to use it on your worst enemy !!
    Working conditions of those employed in racing has long been an issue as caring for horses is a labour intensive business and any massive increase in a trainers cost base obviously has a negative effect on their business. Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of trainers make very little and each year many are forced out of business. The National Association of Racing Staff recognise this reality and seem to have reached a sensible compromise with the employers. Letting NARS know that we, as a party, share their concerns for their members, would be a start.
    Thank you, David, for raising this issue, Shame we are the only ones who seem to think it matters.

  • I seem to remember that the Guardian didn’t report on racing because the Scotts disapproved of betting. The first racing reporter was Peter? who was a real pro.

  • David Warren 12th Mar '20 - 8:03pm


    Thanks for the comments, the majority of which I agree with. However I am concerned about the risks to the horses who race over fences because of the resulting fatalities.

    Also distances are an issue particularly when the going on the ground is heavy.

  • richard underhill 12th Mar '20 - 10:17pm

    We must be careful not to be seen to be encouaraging addictive gambling. Federal conference passed a policy against slot machines which set a moral standard. Minister Tracey Crouch resigned and appears to have lost a career for a principle.
    We use the language of racing in political contests and should be more careful.

  • richard underhill 12th Mar '20 - 10:23pm

    The UK and Ireland are exempt from Donald Trump’s policy on EU citizens. Is it too cynical to worry that we are intended to suffer side-effects?

  • richard underhill 12th Mar '20 - 10:28pm

    David Warren 12th Mar ’20 – 8:03pm
    Horses run because they are prey animals.

  • @David Warren. I share your concerns, which is one reason I prefer the flat, You are right about the dangers of heavy ground. Tired horses on heavy ground are more likely to take a bad fall but the racing authoriies have done much to improve drainage at many tracks, to reposition fences and soften the fences themselves. It’s Cheltenham Gold Cup today. Have a look at the old newsreel of Ten Up or Davy Lad winning in the 1970’s when the ground was pretty terrible. Unfortunately I can’t see that you will ever totally eliminate fatalities. As you will know, horses can break a leg pulling up after a canter at home, or just running around a field.
    @Richard Underhill. You are completely right about horses having a natural desire to run. Those who don’t are soon found other jobs or packed off to stud. The strong association between racing and betting is unfortunate.
    Regarding betting, there are many in racing who rarely have a bet, they know that bookies drive Mercs and stable lads ride bikes and they love the game as a pure sport. In the public imagination racing and betting are all the same thing, something encouraged by the media.

  • David Warren 13th Mar '20 - 1:58pm


    Bookmaking is a very profitable business, just look at how much profit the big companies make each year.

    The libertarian in me says don’t restrict betting and allow people freedom. On the other hand gambling can cause misery if punters get themselves into financial difficulty as some sadly do.

    Having seen at first hand the impact of FOBTs I came down on the side of restricting the stakes.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Mar '20 - 10:46pm

    12th Mar ’20 – 10:23pm
    Not any longer. The Donald has changed his mind.
    Sadly Senator Warren has withdrawn. So who can beat Trump now? All candidates have been tested in opinion polls in most states. Biden has the most delegates now.

  • David Warren 28th Mar '20 - 10:20pm

    @Richard Underhill Biden will be the Democrat nominee that is pretty much certain now.

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