As the biggest and best known horse race in the world, it feels wrong to bypass the Grand National without any form of acknowledgment or celebration. ITV will show the Virtual Grand National tomorrow at 5pm, with a line-up of 40 horses which were the ones most likely to have lined up in the race proper. Previous form, age, weight etc for each horse has been considered and a mathematical algorithm will determine the winner. It may not be as thrilling as the 'real thing' and it will probably feel a little odd, but given the circumstances a 'virtual' contest is as good as it is going to get and will surely provide some entertainment at the very least! The major positive to this CGI horserace, is that bookmakers’ profits will be donated to the NHS, and that is reason alone to support.
The Thursday night 8pm ‘clap in’ in support of the NHS and key workers did not go unnoticed in our household. There is little point opening the back door and clapping into the wind so George and I did our bit in the house while watching the rest of the UK clapping in the streets via the TV.
The work goes on almost unabated at Sun Hill with George continuing to work in the gardens ‘somewhere’ on the farm, stables are steam cleaned and disinfected, the horses cantered on the lunge and some look a bit too lean and fit despite a change in their routine. Its amazing how much they do turned out for a few hours on a nice day, cantering on the lunge and on our water treadmill. Its so easy to ‘over cook’ them – a bit like cooking a steak!
This past few days the racing foundation along with the Levy board, the Racehorse owners association in conjunction with the National Trainers federation have been doing some good work brainstorming and planning a way to lessen the financial burden for owners and help trainers stay in business during this rotten epidemic. Trainers are in a catch 22 situation, owners want discounted fees as an incentive to leave horses in training, leaving the trainer with less income to pay costs including staff wages to look after those horses. This means trainers can’t take too much advantage of the furlough scheme to reduce their costs. The biggest challenge for me and trainers like me is finding a fair reduction in training fees for owners that also ensures we are not ‘too far behind’ when racing restarts.
Our problem lies in the discounted winter fees we give all our owners during the off season, sadly our costs during this time don’t change, I obviously can’t negotiate lesser wages, feed bills, haylage, bedding, insurance, rates or yard running costs while I discount my fees so we start each year with a substantial financial deficit to begin with. We rely on our fees increasing to recoup these losses. If we keep charging a reduced rate then we only increase our deficit.
At the same time, the retention of horses in training is critical for the future of British racing, without this many thousands of jobs will be under threat. Owners training fees not only pay the salaries of trainers and their staff, but also many of the ancillary services that support the industry. The groups mentioned are currently coming up with a plan to help everyone for a limited time and I am sure it will be very well received when the details appear in public.