Non-payment or slow payment by some owners is a problem raised regularly with the NTF all over the country at regional meetings, council meetings in London and on the phone when trainers call needing advice on the subject. The legal help line is often hot and the legal expenses insurance policy is a well-trodden road for many of us. It is not a new problem faced by the industry by any means but it is a problem that is getting worse, as Oliver Sherwood eloquently put it in an interview on RUK last year when he said “the type of owners coming into racing has changed dramatically, long gone are the loyal and patient owners whose payment of fees is guaranteed”. I spoke to Oliver and he added “the dynamics of the owner/ trainer relationship have changed as owners come into racing treating it is a social symbol while they demand their horse runs at Ascot when it should be running at Newton Abbott”. Oliver told me (and allowed me to share his story) of a former owner who owes him money for fees, the ongoing saga is quite extraordinary but it seems this owner is well versed in ripping trainers off having done the same to several others in the past.
This issue is getting more serious by the day as more and more trainers report problems as their business, especially the smaller trainers (although not always) are put under real pressure.
Racing and trainers are regulated by the BHA, who also register owners, so the BHA has a role to play to ensure trainers are treated fairly by owners. And of course the reverse is also true.
There is a Code of Conduct regarding the owner/trainer relationship but there has never been more genuine and urgent need for tighter enforcement of training agreements and a better, fairer system that ensures trainers will be paid in full. The NTF and BHA are agreed that this is an area they wish to work on together.
The NTF has a vision for a more joined up system for payment of training fees to comply with training agreements through the New Racing Administration website. This would become the default way for training fees to be paid though initially it may not be compulsory.
“Good owners” - there are many fantastic owners in the sport, please make no mistake about that. It is not those owners who are the problem. Indeed they are an essential part of the very lifeblood of horse racing, as are the trainers who are also at the very heart of the all-important grassroots system and are the ones being left in debt.
The owners I am referring to are those who take advantage of trainers and ultimately let racing as a whole down. They are people whose morals are lacking and who have little or no honour. Charlie Mann’s recent facebook post showed he is a trainer fed up to the back teeth with being “done over” and no doubt not for the first time in his lengthy career. He decided to write the story of how he, one of his other owners and Goffs sales were targeted and the amount they are standing to lose, but Charlie went a step further and named the perpetrator, posting a picture of him while appealing for information on his whereabouts.
I spoke to Charlie and apparently there was no shortage of information forthcoming following his (now deleted) post. Sadly while Charlie now knows exactly where his man is and how to find him (he is in a “very safe” place) it won’t get him, his owner or Goff’s the money back and, as Charlie signed for the horse at Goff’s, it renders him ultimately responsible.
Meanwhile, trainers continue to land themselves with a seemingly unprecedented number of “wrong- uns” masquerading as owners. Ego has a lot to answer for as many of the problems are created by man’s desire to own a racehorse that he can’t really afford, some are proficient at moving horses from one trainer to another while never actually paying a bill. When our horses suffered badly from the EHV virus last year which affected many yards in England, Ireland and France killing a few racehorses (luckily none of ours died but it killed our season and decimated our numbers). Sir Mark Prescott asked me “how are your owners Mrs D? do you have any flockers?” I asked what he meant by “Flockers” and he replied “Oh you know, they flock in when a trainer is going well and Flock off when they're not”- and he was dead right, disappointingly some did “flock off” while attempting not to pay.
I had one chap years ago from the Birmingham area who sent five half-starved animals in, we did an amazing job getting them back to health and in peak condition but he refused to pay what he owed using every trick in the book by claiming to the ROA that the bills were wrong etc. Only after sending copies of the bills along with vet’s reports, before and after photos of his horses and a list of the eight trainers he had those same horses with over a period of less than eighteen months (none of whom had been paid either), did the ROA tell him to pay up but I had to get really tough with him, refusing to allow the horses to leave and putting up with threats to me personally.
Sadly he isn’t the only one, I have had an owner owing a six figure sum, settled only when debt collectors took over while I have had the misfortune of “sharing” other shockers with a number of trainers most of whom remain out of pocket and some of those have been threatened. One lady trainer I know well (Lisa Williamson) was owed 14k from an owner who still owes me money as well as owing three more trainers I know of, he subjected Lisa to a barrage of abusive messages and appalling behaviour. Lisa used Arno Rudolf from AR Legal Collections ltd after I recommended him and managed to get paid.
Arno has worked for me more than once and I regularly recommended him to trainers who call me for advice and, as chairman of the Northern region of the NTF and President of the Federation I am getting more and more similar calls for help.
I spoke to Arno today and he said…. “My own former trainer Gavin Pritchard –Gordon became involved in my business due to his own recognition of the debts facing trainers and we built up the company together, we now have a good clientele base consisting of trainers, bloodstock agents, studs and sales companies, many of whom are household names”.
Apparently the idea came to Arno that he should concentrate on debts in the racing industry as he had become aware of the huge debt problems that were occurring due to "various reasons, one being the type of person owning horses now has changed dramatically over the last 30 years and if racing can initially nip these people in the bud and not let them get away with more than a month and a half’s credit, you then have some control of the situation before it gets out of hand”.
“As a former owner myself I remember the days when it was almost unheard of for owners to owe trainer’s fees, they paid by return. However these days many owners come into the sport thinking it’s an easy way to make money only to discover a horses can be useless”.
The industry needs a collective and realistic approach which includes sales companies who, since changes in the law required all horses to be accompanied by their passports can no longer retain the passport and thereby stopping the horse from racing. At least in those days trainers knew an owner hadn’t settled the bill with the sales companies and had an opportunity to deal with matters before they got too far out of hand.
Sales companies help trainers by giving us good credit terms, each needs the other, but when owners don’t pay, cant pay or simply won’t pay the knock on effect is damaging right down the line for the bloodstock sales, vets, farriers, feed merchants and all suppliers as each has to wait longer than is reasonable for payment.
The BHA have promised to look into helping what is fast becoming ‘crisis’ in racing and, hopefully by working together with the NTF and the ROA they can come up with a workable formula that helps everyone while weeding out unscrupulous owners who do racing no favours whatsoever, allowing us to get on training our horses and looking after those great owners who deserve our full attention.