Love them or hate them, the KZN Barrier Trials celebrated a first birthday this week.
The news that any horse participating in them will be subjected to testing for prohibited substances seems to have caught some by surprise.
The aptly named Alldressedup won the very first trial on 12 November 2017 at Greyville.
So commenced an initiative introduced by KZN racing operator Gold Circle that required all unraced horses, and those that have not raced for 120 days or more, to run a 1000m heat that has to be completed in 70 secs, to qualify for a clearance certificate.
The Barrier Trials are run on racedays to minimise cost and hassle implications. While many trainers in the holiday province are opposed to them, they appear to be established as a permanent fixture.
But the advice of an amendment of the rules to incorporate testing of trial participants by the National Horseracing Authority in their weekly calendar has caught many on the wrong foot.
A Gold Circle spokesman would not be drawn on discussing the merits of the matter with the Sporting Post but said that they had addressed a letter to the NHA seeking clarity on the matter and were awaiting a response.
Acting CEO of the National Horseracing Authority Arnold Hyde confirmed the introduction of the drug testing for trialists.
We are trying to assimilate race conditions and are obliged to consider the best interests of the welfare of the horse, the safety of the jockey and also the interests of the connections and the racing public. We need to play an active role in the supervision of the trials as we do with racing in general, he added.
A Cape-based owner recently made a stabbing reference to the blossoming cottage industry of second hand sales of unraced horses after good showings in Barrier Trials. It seems this is another aspect that has been taken account of by the NHA.
We are aware that Barrier Trials can be misleading. The public need to reach their own conclusions on the visual evidence of the race, including the body language of the jockeys. That is why we will be taking specimens as the unseen aspect of prohibited substance use also needs to be policed and guarded against, added Hyde.
Ashburton-based champion trainer Duncan Howells welcomed the introduction of testing for drugs for Barrier Trial participants but was adamant it didnt change his general impression that the facility was a bit of a confusing waste of time in its present format.
I feel that the trials have been introduced incorrectly and should have been structured properly to produce a clearer picture. If we want to assimilate race conditions, then the jockeys should also at the very least be obliged to ride their mounts out even if only from the 400m marker. At the moment, the horse that jumps in front usually stays there with everything else behind him on a tight hold and watching him.
Howells added that as a trainer he found the Barrier Trial in his programming routine providing more confusion than anything else.
I would never run a young horse first up round the Greyville turn, for instance. And most of the trials are on the poly. I had a horse run a really ordinary trial the other day and then bolt home first time at Scottsville on the turf at any price. Conversely, I have a horse who has won three trials like a champion, but is yet to win a maiden. Then I had another horse who I felt would do well to get within 20 lengths of the winner in his Barrier Trial. He ran second. Now I am confused and when he makes his debut, the Bookies will probably have him at short odds.
Howells said the public were inadvertently being misled by the Barrier Trials in their present format and felt that, while he was accepting of the fact that they were a rule and he was obliged to fall in line with them, he would prefer to see the facility tweaked to make it more beneficial to Joe Public and Tommy Trainer.
We are all for making the game more transparent for the punting public but then things need to be done properly. Not everybody can read a race. Not everybody understands horses and race riding. So a Barrier Trial the way they are being conducted now can often be more of a curved ball than an information aid to all of us, he added.
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