Racehorse trainers in the UK could face loses their licences should they be proven not to treat their stable staff in a way befitting the culture of racing in this country. The warning came from the BHA’s chief executive Nick Rust who was guest speaking at the Lambourn Sports Club during the National Association of Racing Staff’s (Nars) AGM.

The issues of workers being paid for overtime and receiving the correct time off were raised in front of more than 60 people present, with the overtime payments being one of the main bones of contention.  The association’s own chief exec, George McGrath, called on members to speak out more and air their grievances in order for him to be able to help.

Nick Rust said while he understands the reason some staff lack the confidence and were reluctant to air their gripes, it was important they did so in order to develop a more respectful culture and described stable staff as the backbone of the sport. Rust was at pains to point out that a couple of decades ago, becoming a trainer was about technical skills, i.e. knowing the horse, placing the horse in the right races and get hold of good owners but that now that is no longer suitable within the industry.

It was pointed out at the meeting, quite rightly, that if the industry were not racing but something a little more run of the mill, staff would have an obvious route to air grievances via HR advice or even an employment tribunal. The thing trainers are taking notice of though, is the fact that Rust also pointed out that in this industry his association hands out licences and as such they can take action themselves.  So, should there be sufficient evidence that an employer (trainer) has failed in his or her duty of care towards staff, the BHA can take action.

The downside of this, as was pointed out, is that the BHA doesn’t have a large number of people who can travel the country checking on employment contracts and such.  But it has been made clear that the BHA can and will take action, if they find out about any wrongdoing with Rust imploring the Nars members to come forward. While many of us still appreciate that, to young stable staff and seasoned pro work riders alike, trainers are often called “Sir” or “Mister Gosden” for example, keeping the feeling not only of tradition but also of proper respect towards the master of a yard.

But we must also ensure that horse racing moves with the times and that includes all staff being treated fairly right across the board. At the meeting the subject of owners leading in horses rather than grooms was brought up, something that has annoyed the workforce and that Rust sympathises with.

Taking the extreme case of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum shoving the groom out of the way to lead in his dad’s horse Masar in at Epsom having won the Derby out of the way, we must remember that the owner is paying the bills and may see each victory as one of very few chances to lead in a horse and take the limelight that frankly they have financed.