BHA braces itself after putting punters first over wind ops move
A wind of change will sweep across British racing from January 19 after the BHA confirmed trainers will be forced to reveal when a horse is racing for the first time following a breathing operation.
The letters 'WS' will appear against a horse's name to indicate the animal has undergone new wind surgery since his or her previous appearance.
While the organisation representing punters gave enthusiastic backing to the "decisive" BHA's move, the governing body is bracing itself for criticism from a numbers of owners, trainers and breeders, who believe there is no need for the information to be publicised and are fearful the commercial value of certain racehorses and stallions will suffer.
"We knew people had reservations and we would expect this isn't going to please everyone," said BHA head of media Robin Mounsey.
"We are the regulator, and the regulator will at times have to make decisions that aren't universally popular among all its participants and stakeholders.
"We have the best interests of the sport at heart here. At times that has to outweigh the individual interests of certain participants."
Open, fair and transparent
It is the BHA's belief the best interests of the sport are, on this occasion, best served by giving primary consideration to the best interests of punters.
“The sport’s betting customers, and potential customers, are at the heart of this development," said BHA chief regulatory officer Jamie Stier, who accepted horsemen have "reservations" about the development.
"It is simply essential the sport is seen to be open, fair and transparent," added Stier.
"In a modern world, information which may have an impact on a horse’s performance should be available to all, not only those who are close to the horse in question.
"The spirit of what we're trying to achieve is to benefit, inform and assist the betting customer.
"This does not necessarily represent a significant shift in position. What it does is show we have an ongoing commitment to transparency, considering not only the horsemen in racing, but also acknowledging the role the betting customer plays."
The news comes just one week after Nicky Henderson announced the reappearance of last season's superstar novice chase Altior had been postponed due to the discovery of a wind problem.
However, those against the BHA's stance counter that numerous horses do not show improved form following an operation and also highlight that those using racecards will not know to what specific sort of surgery a horse has been subject.
David Sykes, BHA director of equine health and welfare, admits punters could either win or lose if thinking improvement following surgery is guaranteed.
No guarantee of success
“Assumptions on the impact of the surgery on the horse’s form should rest entirely with the betting customer," he said.
"It is understood not all wind surgeries are successful – but some clearly are.
"Because of this, it is our view that the information should be in the public domain and the betting customer should be given the opportunity to assess the value of the information.
Responding to the news, Horseracing Bettors Forum chair Simon Rowlands said: "HBF welcomes this initiative by the BHA and the decisive way in which it has responded to requests for wind-operation data from a section of the British horseracing public surveyed by HBF.
"The requirements asked of the sport's professionals for declaring wind operations and the procedures involved in exposing the resulting information to the public seem reasonable and pragmatic. HBF looks forward to discovering, along with the wider public, the value that exists in this data once it starts to be published."
Stressing the importance of punters to British racing and its policies, Stier, who pointed out there had been "an extensive consultation period", added: “The more data that is available to the betting customer serves to make the sport a more attractive betting product.
"It is vital we keep up with other sports if we are going to continue to compete in an increasingly crowded betting marketplace.
“We commenced consideration of this initiative some time ago as we were aware, anecdotally, that it was an issue which concerned the betting public. A survey by the Horseracing Bettors Forum which showed that this piece of information was the punters’ number one issue reinforced the need to act on this matter."
Impact on bloodstock values
Acknowledging the balancing act that had been needed before the decision was taken, Sykes added: "We are aware of the view that information about wind operations being made public may have an impact on bloodstock values. However, we place the importance of openness and transparency above this commercial interest."
Stier nonetheless argued taking the secrecy out of wind surgery could benefit the bloodstock industry, claiming it would mean the sector in Britain would be setting "the gold standard" from 2018.
"I think there are a lot of positives," said Stier. "While people will initially probably see the negatives ahead of the positives, I firmly believes there are positives for the bloodstock industry attached to the declaration of this sort of information."
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