Andrew Balding pulls plug on aspiring apprentices after BHA rule changes
Trainer Andrew Balding has informed four aspiring jockeys, who were due to start their careers in racing at his Kingsclere yard next summer, that he can no longer offer them employment at his stable due to the new BHA rules on apprentice pay.
The move comes in the wake of new rules set out by the BHA last week to ensure apprentice jockeys receive a larger share of prize-money and riding fees from next year, a decision that has been met with discontent among some trainers.
Balding, who has nurtured some of the finest riding talent over the past two decades at his yard's renowned apprentice academy, including champion apprentices William Buick, David Probert and Oisin Murphy, has also informed BHA chief executive Nick Rust of his decision, one that is "as much a protest against the BHA’s failure to listen to the views of the trainers" as it is a consequence of the financial implications of the new agreement, according to the Classic-winning trainer.
In a letter to Rust, which the trainer shared with the Racing Post, Balding accuses the BHA of taking trainers for "fools", warning that the sport's governing body has "seriously underestimated" the solidarity among trainers having gone ahead with the changes without the backing of the National Trainers Federation (NTF).
"I can safely predict that under your new amendments, the young jockeys of the future will almost all be related to trainers as nepotism will be the only reason that trainers are incentivised to give young inexperienced jockeys rides," Balding writes.
Under the current system, Flat trainers retained up to 50 per cent of an apprentice's riding fee and prize-money yields, depending on their claim and regardless of whom they rode for, in return for paying towards the jockey's expenses, such as travel and certain items of kit.
However, in practice some apprentices did not claim or receive the expenses owed to them. The BHA board and the PJA agreed the new system, which is set to come into force from March next year, with apprentices to receive no less than 80 per cent of their riding fee and prize-money but trainers no longer required to pay their expenses.
Leading trainers, including Balding, Richard Hannon and Richard Fahey, have voiced their dissatisfaction at the new rules, believing they underestimate both the role trainers play in advancing the career of apprentices and the cost to them financially.
Similarly to Balding, Fahey has already pledged not to employ any more apprentices after his current crop ride out their claims, while Hannon has warned that there is now less incentive than ever to use apprentices.
While the new rules are designed to offer greater financial assistance to young riders, Fahey, Balding and Hannon are in agreement that the net result will be a reduction in opportunities for trainee riders as more trainers decide it is no longer viable to hold the licences of apprentices.
However, former champion apprentices Tom Marquand and Josephine Gordon have supported the changes, as have current apprentice Megan Nicholls and dual-purpose trainer Gary Moore.
"Through Rupert [Arnold] and the NTF we have tried to warn you, but your pursuit of what might appear popular in the press has once again led you to ignore the voices of the people who genuinely understand the subject," writes Balding in his letter, which lists the names of 35 jockeys who made their professional riding debut for his yard.
He continues: "For your information, listed are some of the jockeys who have had their first rides for us, some familiar names and others not so, but at least they all had an opportunity to start on one of the many apprentice horses we kept for that purpose.
"I am sure that you have made the provisions to fill the void left by myself, Richard Fahey, Richard Hannon and Mark Johnston to name a few."
Commenting on the new arrangement for apprentice riders and the fact some trainers have decided to no longer employ apprentices, a spokesman for the BHA said: "The BHA was asked to make a decision on an appropriate payment structure for apprentices after the PJA and NTF were unable to reach an agreement.
"The NTF and PJA were consulted as were individual trainers and all views were considered. The decision has removed a source of tension over apprentices' travel expenses, which were not always paid, and is, in the BHA’s opinion, the fairest way to remove the issue of non-payment.
"It is disappointing if the decision is cited as a reason for not employing apprentices, but the new, simplified system is very close to that used for conditional jockeys and does not prevent their employment by jumps trainers.”
Andrew Balding's letter to Nick Rust in full . . .
Following your recent decision to implement changes to the trainer/ apprentice agreement, it is with some sadness that I have written to four aspiring young jockeys to say that there is no longer a position for them at Park House.
All four were due to start work at Kingsclere in the summer when they finish school and all of them have made the effort to come and work here to gain experience during school holidays in the last year. They all have considerable potential so I am sure there will be little problem in finding them alternative yards and I hope that in time they might get the opportunities that they deserve.
Whilst the financial implications of your new agreement make it far less appealing for us to take on inexperienced apprentices, my decision is as much a protest against the BHA’s failure to listen to the views of the trainers.
Whilst I accept that the trainers are only a small part of a very large industry, you must remember that almost to every man and woman, the licensed trainers in this country have all mucked horses out, driven horseboxes, groomed horses, got up in the dark to feed them; we have all had experience of employing people young and old, many of us have ridden in races, with varying degrees of success; we have all at some stage introduced new people to the sport, we have all had a bet of some description at some stage of our lives; we have all bought and sold horses; we have all attended racecourses as casual racegoers, many of us have given young people the opportunity to ride in races, not really knowing if we were taking a risk that might backfire to our detriment; we compete against each other on a daily basis, to win races, to get staff and to attract owners, but by and large there is a solidarity amongst us that the BHA have seriously underestimated. We may not represent a body of high academic achievement or financial acumen but you are doing us all a huge injustice by taking us for fools.
I can safely predict that under your new amendments, the young jockeys of the future will be almost all be related to trainers as nepotism will be the only reason that trainers are incentivised to give young inexperienced jockeys rides.
Through Rupert and the NTF we have tried to warn you but your pursuit of what might appear popular in the press has once again led you to ignore the voices of the people who genuinely understand the subject.
For your information, listed below are some of the jockeys who have had their first rides for us, some familiar names and others not so, but at least they all had an opportunity to start on one of the many apprentice horses we kept for that purpose.
I am sure that you have made the provisions to fill the void left by myself, Richard Fahey, Richard Hannon and Mark Johnston to name a few.
Travis Block, Thomas Brown, Joshua Bryan, William Buick, William Carver, Neil Chalmers, Michael Coles, William Cox, James Davies, Martin Dwyer, Jack Garrity, Hobie Gill, Edward Greatrex, Frank Hayes, Dean Heslop, Rob Hornby, Jamie Jones, Liam Keniry, Leanne Masterton, Adam McClean, Sara Metcalf, Oisin Murphy, Daniel Muscutt, Amy Parsons, Marie Perault, David Probert, Alastair Rawlinson, James Rodgers, Joey Haynes, Kieren Shoemark, Sophie Sylvester, Kayleigh Stephens, Jason Watson, Jonathan Willetts, Daniel Wright.
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