Donald McCain hit out at Arena Racing Company’s prize-money levels after declaring the sole runner in a race at Sedgefield on Sunday, as the Durham track became the latest to be hit by a boycott from trainers.
ARC announced in December it was cutting back on its prize-money contributions as the operator prepares for an expected shortfall in the levy because of betting shop closures following the Government’s decision to lower the maximum FOBT stake from £100 to £2.
This decision has been met with dismay by many trainers and the situation came to a head last weekend after two races at Lingfield were boycotted – with no runners declared in one and Nick Littmoden’s Greybychoice enjoying a walkover in another.
In a temporary move, ARC announced on Thursday it was reallocating prize-money to increase funds in the lower-grade races, but that move has not appeased everyone in the training fraternity – with Classic-winning trainer Ralph Beckett calling on his fellow trainers to boycott meetings at ARC tracks for three days next week.
And now trainers have combined to stage an unexpected boycott at Sedgefield this weekend, with Wasowski – owned and trained by McCain – the only horse in the Watch Sky Sports Racing In HD Handicap Hurdle from 23 original entries, meaning another walkover.
McCain said: “I’ve been asked to support it (the boycott) and I have.
“This not just a new thing. ARC haven’t been putting enough money into the game for many years – it’s shameful.”
Wasowski’s presence ensures ARC will have to pay out the win portion of the total prize fund of £3,500 – and McCain confirmed the money will be donated to the Injured Jockeys Fund’s Jack Berry House in Malton.
McCain only returned to action on Wednesday after his yard was placed on lockdown for three weeks following the outbreak of equine influenza – which was first found at his Cheshire base on February 6.
He added: “I’m in a position where I need to run horses – I’ve been out of the game for a long time – but this can’t carry on.
“I’m an employee – I work for my owners. Luckily I’ve got a very good bunch of owners, but it’s hard to look them in the eye and say we’re going to run their horse in a particular race and even if they win, after all the expenses, it will probably pay for two weeks’ training – it’s appalling.
“We can say what we want about the bookmakers and the racecourses, but the owners are the ones supplying the product – end of story.”
Grade One-winning trainer Harry Fry has added his support to boycott plans.
He said in his Betway blog: “We’re fully behind trainers like Ralph Beckett and next week’s potential boycott of Lingfield as something needs to be done.
“Fontwell, another Arc course, is experiencing the same problems.
“There’s a meeting there next week where the maiden hurdle is worth just £100 more than the bumper and owners are telling me not to bother entering them.
“They’ve now reopened the races but I think they’re going to end up with some very small fields.”
He added: “What’s frustrating is that Fontwell had a good card last weekend, where we ran If The Cap Fits in the Grade Two National Spirit Hurdle, but they can only seem to get it right for one meeting before getting it wrong again.
“I don’t see this issue being resolved overnight, but it would be encouraging to know whether any progress is being made.”
In Thursday’s statement, ARC had said: “At a BHA Board meeting last night, ARC Chief Executive Martin Cruddace and Anne Duffield (representing the National Trainers Federation) agreed that ARC would fully unlock all relevant races for a period of one month while all parties continue to work towards a resolution of this issue.
“In a deal brokered by BHA, it was made clear that ARC would adjust its future race programme to fund this period of unlocking, which represents circa £235,000. This will unlock circa £364,000 in Levy funding, which has been budgeted to support these races.
“To be clear, ARC’s position remains that we are anxious that the £4.5 million for these races is allocated as soon as possible and that agreement is reached.
“ARC understands that BHA will produce communications to notify horsemen of appropriate race values over this period.”
A spokesman for ARC said no further statement would be made on Friday.
In a further development, jockey Stevie Donohoe said he would be supporting action – and urged his weighing-room colleagues to follow suit.
He wrote on Twitter: “Fully support the trainers and owners this coming week, I will not be taking any rides at the selected meetings and urge my colleagues to follow suit #seethebigpicture.”