Saint-Cloud shock: course protesters lead to Group 1 meeting being called off
Karl Burke branded protests that caused the abandonment of Saint-Cloud's Group 1 card on Sunday "totally wrong" after a number of British and Irish horses were caught up in the ongoing struggle surrounding France Galop's plans to cut €25 million from various forms of financial compensation around the fringes of prize-money.
Members of a number of organisations representing trainers, owners and breeders – campaigning under the umbrella of 'Sauvons Le Galop' (Let's Save Racing) – blocked the entrance to the parade ring before the second race.
Despite lengthy exchanges with the president of France Galop, Edouard de Rothschild, and his chief executive Olivier Delloye, the two sides were unable to establish common ground and racing was abandoned amid chaotic scenes. France Galop later announced none of the races would be rescheduled.
The track was scheduled to host two Group 1s – the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and Criterium International – in which Aidan O'Brien had five chances to add to his record 26 Group 1 wins this year.
Charlie Appleby, James Tate, Harry Dunlop and Burke were also due to have runners in the main races, while William Haggas and Ed Walker were due to saddle horses in the Group 3 Prix Perth.
Members of the Highclere Racing Syndicate had travelled to watch Illuminate – trained in Chantilly by Freddy Head – take on the O'Brien battalion in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.
Highclere's Harry Herbert said: "Twenty-five owners have flown over and it's dashed a lot of hopes. A lot of people are very disappointed.
"These races don't come around very often. We don't see this at home and although I know this does happen here from time to time, I've never been involved in it before. I'm just very disappointed for my owners."
Prominent French trainer Nicolas Clement, who was due to run Woodmax in the Criterium International, said he felt the protesters could have explored other ways of making their point.
"This abandonment is extremely regrettable," said Clement. "At the outset the 'Sauvons Le Galop' collective didn’t talk of a blockade but instead some form of peaceful protest.
"Losing this meeting will cause a loss of millions of euros to the sport, and it's also a very bad image internationally. But, above all, the problems won’t be solved in this manner. I think there are other forms of protest."
Burke expresses disappointment towards other trainers
But it was Burke, a regular supporter of French racing, who had the harshest words for the protest.
"I just think it's very poor trainers themselves have caused the abandonment of any race, never mind a Group 1 day," he said. "I'd be amazed if it ever happened in the UK or Ireland.
"If it were some of the workers, the stalls handlers, that would be a different matter. But for actual trainers to think it's right to cause the abandonment of racing, I think that's totally wrong. I find it hard to swallow."
The planned €25m budgetary cuts are due to be voted on at a meeting of France Galop's administrative council on Monday.
The project would mean a reduction in payments made to cover transport and a rise in VAT, as well as owners' and breeders' premiums, with none being payable to horses of six years and older.
Cedric Boutin, one of the prime movers in the protest, said: "We understand there's a financial crisis and that savings have to be made, but all we're asking is that they're distributed in a just, fair manner. That's to say that all levels of racing suffer an equal impact."
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