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Mark Johnston: Horse values need to be kept at a level that will help to prevent maltreatment.

On Tuesday, when many of the high-rollers in the bloodstock industry were viewing yearlings at Tattersalls and preparing themselves to bid five-, six-, or even seven-figure sums for them, a very different bloodstock sale

was taking place.

Ascot Bloodstock Sales has held sales of horses in and out of training for as long as I can remember, but the quality and prices paid now seem to be declining to an unacceptable level. At Tuesday's sale, prices were low, to say the least, with 56 of the 74 lots offered changing hands for an average of 836gns; eight lots selling for less than pounds 400; and 16 horses changing hands for `cash'.

This surely constitutes a potential welfare problem. It is dangerous when the value of horses drops so low that people can afford to buy a horse, but then may not be able to afford to keep it.

The vast number of cases of cruelty to animals in Britain are due to ignorance or lack of money. Thankfully, deliberate cruelty to horses is a real rarity-and the best way to prevent it is to keep the minimum value of sound thoroughbred horses at a level at which they are unlikely to fall into the wrong hands.

I should stress that I see this only as a potential problem. I do not believe welfare is a major issue for ex-racehorses in Britain at present, but we should still try to remove, or at least minimise, the dangers. I do not believe this can be done by charities that place retired racehorses in

so-called `rehabilitation' centres.

This, to my mind, is a very expensive way of dealing with a negligible number of horses.

No, we must address the problem at its root and make an effort to raise the profile, and hence the value, of thoroughbred horses for use outside racing. If we can raise the minimum value then we will greatly reduce the chance of these horses being abused or neglected.

Thoroughbred horses, due to their toughness, stamina and biddable natures, make excellent candidates for most equestrian pursuits and those who have come from the racing industry have the huge advantage of having generally been professionally handled and schooled from the moment they dropped out of their mothers.

Sadly, however, this is not always recognised and the racing thoroughbred has a totally undeserved reputation for being unschooled and difficult to control. At present, I would suggest, a thoroughbred horse is usually worth more outside the racing industry if it can be detached from its history as a racehorse and it is, sadly, worth even more if potential buyers can be convinced that it is not entirely thoroughbred.

If we could change this and gain recognition for the many thousands of ex-racehorses who are successfully performing new jobs, it would be a major breakthrough.

I have, for many years, been advocating a scheme to market ex-racehorses for other uses but, to date, I have had very little support. My idea involves the payment of bonuses or premiums for ex-racehorses competing successfully in other equestrian disciplines.

To be eligible for a bonus the owner would simply have to be competing with the horse under its original registered name and be able to produce its passport to show that it was once in training. The administration required would be simple and the sums of money involved would not need to be large.

We just need to create a situation where it is financially advantageous to be competing on an ex-racehorse rather than a horse of unknown history.

This could be funded from a very small levy on sales at public auction and, if I am right and base prices of horses leaving racing were to rise as a result, there may, eventually, be no cost to the industry at all.

It is simply a marketing exercise with the huge added bonus that it will help ensure good homes for horses who are no longer of use for racing.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 6, 2001
Previous Article:Mark Johnston: Claiming races are not utilised properly.
Next Article:Tax-free betting: Bookmakers can use reforms to grow business.

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