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Drop in trainer numbers and increase in whip offences highlighted by IHRB

Andrew Coonan: increase in whip offences could be down to a more stringent approach taken by the regulator
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Denis Egan, chief executive of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), has revealed that just one application has been made for the regulator’s next course for aspiring trainers, as the publication of the 2017 integrity statistics again highlighted a stark decline in licence-holders.

Over a ten-year period since 2007, the latest contraction sees the total number of trainers fall from 805 to 578.

A significant 29 per cent rise to 169 in the number of whip offences incurred by jockeys in 2017 also led Egan to suggest that sanctions for such rule breaches might now need reviewing.

However, it is the ongoing reduction in the number of trainers that is causing him most concern, with no obvious solution to reverse the trend.

“The total number of all trainers’ licences has fallen from 805 in 2007 to 578 in 2017, and is falling each year,” Egan outlined.

"The drop in jump trainers’ licences for both full and restricted licences is very worrying with double-digit percentage falls being recorded in both categories [Flat and jumps] last year.

“Ninety-three jumps licences were issued last year which represents a drop of 10.5 per cent on the 2016 figure, while the number of restricted National Hunt licences is down 13 per cent on 2016 at 137.

“The number of jump trainers in the country is now at its lowest level for many years. It’s certainly a worrying trend and the reality of the situation is that it's basically down to economics.

“What emphasises the situation is the fall-off in applications for our courses for aspiring trainers. We have a course coming up in the next couple of months and whereas in the past that course would be full up with applicants at this stage, so far we have had only one application for the upcoming course.”

Whip review

Of the surge in whip-related sanctions, Egan said: “The increase in the number of whip rule breaches is disappointing and it's something our board will need to look at as the current penalty guidelines are obviously not having the desired effect.

“No decision on any possible changes will be made until all the relevant parties involved are consulted, but it is something we need to look at. There has also been an increase in the number of horses reported to have been marked.”

Of the spike in whip transgressions, Andrew Coonan, secretary of the Irish Jockeys Association, noted that the figure was more in line with the 160 breaches in 2015.

“On the face of it, the increase in the number of whip inquiries is not significantly different from the 2015 statistics but possibly reflects a more stringent approach being taken by the Regulatory Body,” Coonan said.

There were significant increases in both the number of vaccination infringements (up 63 per cent to 140) and in weighing in/out infringements, which were up 65 per cent to 71.

Egan explained: "The big increase in the breaches of the vaccination rules is basically due to all passports being checked on racedays whereas in previous years only passports that met certain criteria were checked. The increase in weighing in/out inquiries is due to new rules on overweights which were introduced last year.”

Commenting on the medical statistics, Dr Adrian McGoldrick, senior IHRB medical officer, said: "The improvement in the injury rates may be attributed to the introduction of the new Level 2 Safety Vest on January 1, 2017.

"Concussion rates for jump racing have remained stable while there was an increase in the concussion rate for Flat racing. However, only nine of the 38 falls in flat racing actually occurred during the race."

The trend of annual falls in the number of jump riders’ licences issued was reversed with 120 licences issued, representing an increase of 19 per cent.

Of that apparent anomaly, Coonan said: “The increase in issued licenses is an unusual trend compared to the falling numbers among trainers and indeed the number of licences granted to Flat jockeys has, in fact, decreased.

“There is no obvious reason for the increase of jump licences, but we have seen a few cases of riders taking out professional licenses and relinquishing these within a short period of time and reverting to qualified riders’ status.”

Other information contained in the report include 35 per cent of the 31 appeals lodged against the findings of racecourse stewards being successful; four of the 244 riders drug-tested returning positives for cocaine matabolites and five of the 4,094 samples taken from horses proving positive for banned substances.

Coonan felt the drop in successful appeals suggested appellants’ chances of redress are not what they were.

He said: “I would be concerned that the number of successful appeals against penalties imposed by the local stewards has significantly dropped from a high of 61 per cent in 2015 to 35 per cent in 2017 and one thing that could be concluded from this is that the Appeals Body are tending to uphold local stewards’ decisions to the detriment of appellants.”

The statistics also revealed that the number of chasers trained in Ireland last year rated 130 or higher was up 4.5 per cent to 190 while the number of hurdlers rated 130 or more was down 19 per cent to 118. 

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What emphasises the situation is the fall off in applications for our courses for aspiring trainers
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