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Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

The whats, whens, wheres and whys on the rule

Denman: underwent wind op during his career
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What will happen and when?

From January 19, British racecards will indicate when a horse is having his or her first run since undergoing a new form of wind surgery. This will be done using the letters 'WS'.

Trainers will be compelled to make this information known, using the sport's Racing Admin system, at the point when a declaration is made. When disclosing a horse has been gelded, the notification comes at the point of entry.

What sorts of surgery are involved?

Five types of surgery must be declared, namely: 

Tie back (prosthetic laryngoplasty)
Hobday (ventriculectomy/cordectomy)
Epiglottic surgery
Tie forward (dorsal displacement soft palate surgery)
Soft palate cautery

However, those using racecards will not be told which sort of surgery a horse has had. Racecards will show only the umbrella indication 'WS'. Trainers will, though, be required at point of declaration to inform the BHA which of the five surgeries is involved in order to assist the BHA in developing its welfare database.

David Sykes, BHA director of equine health and welfare, says: "Wind operations are routine surgical procedures that are designed to assist a horse with its breathing. We have identified a list of five of the most relevant and frequent surgeries, which we are asking trainers to declare.

"We believe it is reasonable the betting customers will take it as read that the trainer, owner, and their veterinarian will have performed the most appropriate surgery to address the issue with the specific horse."

Are all horses involved?

Almost all, yes, the one main distinction being no notification will be given concerning horses who have previously never run. Otherwise, the requirement to declare surgeries applies equally to horses trained in Britain and overseas.

Moreover, although 'WS' will only appear on racecards for the horse's first run post-surgery, a trainer must make the official notification after each new surgery, meaning 'WS' could appear against a horse's name before more than one start.

Will trainers be punished if breaking the rule?

They will.

Chief regulatory officer Jamie Stier says: "A good regulatory system puts in place a mechanism to adequately address people who choose or fail to comply for whatever reason. Non-compliance would be an offence of some significance, but every case turns on its own set of facts."

He adds: "I have always approached regulation on the basis that the majority of people are compliant. That's the most sensible and logical place to start.

"The vast majority of people will comply with this requirement. There will be cases where compliance isn't forthcoming. However, there are many ways this sort of information can become public, whether through intelligence, conversations or, indeed, through veterinary records." He added that he expected penalties to be financial.

Why now?

The issue of declaring wind operations has been on the table for many years, in part because trainers such as Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have been very open in discussing operations given to the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Denman and now Altior.

However, there have been instances, some high-profile, when horses have won races, only after which connections have revealed the animal concerned had undergone wind surgery since last running.

Through the creation of the Horseracing Bettors Forum, punters have gained a strong voice, one that informed the BHA surveys showed declaration of wind surgery has been the change wanted by punters more than any other.

Does the BHA have any idea how many horses will be involved?

The regulator admits it does not, on the basis there has not until now been a collective mandatory way of collating the information.

Is Britain going it alone? Will others follow?

The BHA states it is adopting a system similar to those in operation across much of the southern hemisphere and Asia, territories in which it is common for punters to be given far more information and data than has hitherto been the case in Britain.

Stier says: "Declaration of wind operations is already mandatory in some other racing nations and the BHA are led to believe that other racing nations will also consider following suit following the BHA’s implementation of the changes."

Asked how regulators in Ireland and France have reacted in terms of making a similar rule change themselves, Stier adds: "They certainly haven't approached this from a negative aspect. They have shown great interest in this and indicated they would give consideration to the matter in the near future."

Will this open the floodgates? Should we expect compulsory notification of a racemare being in foal?

An announcement is expected soon, with the BHA's statement on Wednesday, noting: "Other aspects of data declaration, such as mares in foal, are currently being considered by the BHA, and further updates will be provided on this front in the new year."

"It's about taking a proportionate approach"

Stier adds: "Each piece of information you have to consider on its relative merits. There are some bits of information that would be more valuable to punters than others. It's about taking a proportionate approach."

The BHA argues the declaration of wind surgery will "help generate data for equine health and welfare research". How does it expect the information to be useful?

"The data could be invaluable," says Sykes.

"At some point in the future we will be able to look back across the veterinary welfare database we are building and we'll be able to look at horses that had surgery, what type of surgery they had and what sort of response there was in terms of performance.

"We'll be able to look at particular trainers, what sort of surgeries they do and how many surgeries they have in their yard.

"The mean figure across the sport might be ten wind surgeries per 100 horses in training. If a trainer has 75 out of 100 we might perhaps look at that from a welfare issue or we might not.

"We might also see that wind surgery makes no change to the percentage of prize-money horses win post-surgery. Who knows?"

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Non-compliance would be an offence of some significance, but every case turns on its own set of facts
E.W. Terms
Sky bet