By Alayna Cullen
Thanks to my Irish heritage I am a sucker for tradition; just ask my family when the subject of removing turkey from the Christmas dinner menu is raised. But having been fortunate to travel the world and be challenged on various facets of my mindset, I have become more accepting of the idea that perhaps the Irish and British racing model is outdated and in need of reform. I love racing in these isles, from the Classics to the 2-year-old maidens. I love the characters and stories that arise from each winner, and I love that a good racehorse can come from anywhere, but when I hear stories of trainers who can no longer make their business viable it leaves my despondent.
Often it is a lack of resources that inevitably leads trainers to remove themselves from the ranks. Trainers rely on owners because owners bring with them horses, but with a shrinking pool of owners to go round it is no wonder that trainers are finding it harder to survive. With first-hand experience of a family-run operation that would benefit from Britain and Ireland falling in line with other parts of the world when it comes to training partnerships, I have been seriously wondering how both nations could reap the rewards of this concept, which also serves to give a leg-up to assistant trainers who can’t afford to go it alone but desperately want to take out a licence.
Co-trainers is a concept that works exceptionally well in Australasia, with some of the elite partnerships including Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, Lindsay Park’s David Hayes, Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig, and Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman, while in Europe the same is true for father-and-son team Carlos and Yann Lerner in France, and previously for brothers Guiseppe and Alduino Botti in Italy.
So I ask, why don’t we have co-trainers in Britain and Ireland? Of course there is the question of who is accountable in the eyes of the stewards should something untoward take place, but surely the regulators could find a way to instigate legislation for that purpose.
Weighing up the pros and the cons to this situation, the list of positives is certainly longer. I can think of a number of trainers who credit their assistants with the success of their yards, and there are plenty of family-run yards who could utilise training partnerships, such as Richard Hannon Sr. and Jr., Dermot and Chris Weld, Mark and Charlie Johnston, or for that matter, Mark and Deirdre Johnston.
In my view, an alliance between trainers can only be good for the industry. Strengths could be augmented, weaknesses counteracted, resources such as staff, horses, facilities and owners could be pooled, and with the sharing of roles, trainers could enhance the overall ownership experience in a bid to draw more people in.
Australia’s racing product has often been touted as one of the best in the world. The prize-money is superior, the general public’s interaction with the sport is greater and the number of owners involved, either through syndicates or sole ownership, is far higher than in European countries. The strength of the Australian product is unparalleled so isn’t it time we took a leaf out of the Australian playbook?