Oliver Sherwood leads calls for National Racehorse Day to spread welfare message
The idea of a National Racehorse Day, as suggested by Racing Post guest columnist Richard Phillips, has met with widespread enthusiasm within the sport.
Leading industry figures, including Grand National-winning trainer Oliver Sherwood, Sara Cumani and Rod Street, gave their backing to the plan to showcase how well the sport's equine participants are treated in a concerted effort to change public perception.
Horse welfare is a worldwide issue for racing with issues such as fatalities, the use of the whip and, most recently, an ABC documentary in Australia which showed the shocking fate of some ex-racehorses, which has lead to several discussions on the matter.
In Monday's Racing Post, trainer Richard Phillips suggested a day should be created in the calendar annually to showcase the racehorse and how they live "a life of love and luxury".
National Racehorse Day may just be a concept at present but, judged by Monday's reaction to the suggestion, it is one that would have sufficient backing to be made a reality.
Oliver Sherwood was one of the founders of the Lambourn Open Day, which began in 1990, and the trainer is fully behind the idea of an additional opportunity for the sport to present itself to the wider public.
"I think anything to promote the game like that is very good," he said. "Since the days of Many Clouds, we've done so many mornings on the gallops for charity and it's unbelievable how few people do realise what goes on in a racing stable.
"They think horses just turn up at the races and race, and they can't believe how busy it is and important it is to get a racehorse to the racecourse, let alone win."
Having been involved in racing for a long time, Sherwood believes the sport needs to cast off its clandestine image, and added: "When I first came into the game 40-odd years ago they didn't have owners around the yard. It was very much a secretive thing, almost like a Dick Francis novel.
"We've got to get rid of that label and be open and promote how well the horses are looked after. I'm sure the majority of people would love to see what goes on behind the scenes."
Like Sherwood, former Newmarket Open Day chair Sara Cumani is a firm believer in highlighting all the good work that goes on in racing yards, and believes the sport needs to control the message on welfare rather than being on the back foot.
She said: "I strongly agree with everything Richard says. We must stop apologising and be proactive and get our message out to the wider public. I feel open days are fantastic and well supported, but they are largely attended by the converted."
Cumani suggested a TV documentary could be a potent platform, selecting people who are staunchly anti-racing and getting them to experience first-hand the treatment and care horses receive by working within a yard in an attempt to change their perceptions.
She added: "The Khadijah Mellah story has proved very powerful and perhaps something like that could be done for horse welfare."
Great British Racing is keen to advocate the sport to as many people as possible, and chief executive Rod Street said: "We think that Richard’s idea of a National Racehorse Day has great merit. Until now, communications around welfare have chiefly been the responsibility of the BHA and this will be enhanced in 2020 with GBR playing a wider role.
"GBR’s emphasis will be on sharing the many positive stories about horses and the people that care for them. We believe there is an opportunity to explain more about our sport to those who are unsure or undecided about us.
"Building on the success of the current open days is eminently sensible, and we know from our own experience of bringing retired racehorses to racecourses on certain days that getting people closer to horses invariably has a positive impact."
The BHA has already been in contact with Phillips, and a spokesperson said: "We welcome Richard’s imaginative suggestion for British horseracing to come together to promote the way we look after our horses. Showing people our passion for horses and the pride we take in our high standards of care has to be the right direction for the sport.
"We made a start through The Horse Comes First with the support of ITV Racing and others, but we all know we have to be more ambitious. That’s why the new cross-industry Horse Welfare Board has placed 'ensuring more effective communications and engagement around equine welfare' as one of its core objectives.
"The Board has been discussing how it supports the sport to talk more positively, less defensively, more confidently and with greater unity."
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