Littmoden left frustrated as jockeys prove elusive at boycott-hit Lingfield

Riders join prize-money row

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Trainer Nick Littmoden has been left frustrated after failing to secure a jockey for one of his runners at Lingfield on Wednesday as repercussions of the row over prize-money levels rumble on.

Just 19 runners were declared for six races at the Surrey circuit, and that shrunk to 17 after two further non-runners were announced – with three races a straight match between two horses.

Littmoden – whose Greybychoice enjoyed a walkover at Lingfield on the first day trainers started boycotting races in protest of prize-money cuts enforced by Arena Racing Company – has two runners on the card.

Danny Brock takes the ride on Glutnforpunishment when he faces just one rival in the opening race in Brinkleys Katie.

However, Brock has another ride in the race in which Littmoden had intended running Toriano – a five-runner handicap, the biggest field of the day – and the Newmarket handler has been unable to find a jockey willing to take the mount.

Littmoden was a vocal supporter of boycotting a meeting at Wolverhampton back in 2003, yet felt he was not backed up by the rest of the training fraternity.

A former all-weather champion trainer, he subsequently spent time away from racing but returned to the ranks in 2017.

Littmoden said: “I want to run the horse if I can find a jockey, but it’s a big ‘if’.”

Stevie Donohoe was one rider who promised strike action last week, posting on Twitter on Friday: “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.”

There appeared to be a positive development on Saturday evening when ARC and the National Trainers Federation issued a joint-statement – in which ARC committed to unlocking extra funds for all eligible races in March.

However, it seems not all are satisfied.

Littmoden added: “I received an email on Sunday from the National Trainers Federation saying that following the agreement with ARC on Saturday, there would be no further boycotting this month, but that is obviously not the case.

“After receiving the email I thought that would be the end of it for now, but it isn’t.

“I think it’s a shambles, to be honest.”

Brock said the decision to ride at the meeting was “the right one” for him.

He told The Guardian: “It’s my decision and I feel it’s the right one for me. It just happens that the trainers who entered their horses are the trainers that support me.

“I’ve been loyal to the people who’ve been loyal to me since I’ve been riding and it just happened that they were running. That made my mind up, really. At the end of the day I’ve got a family to feed and bills to pay and the rides were there.”

He added: “I totally agree with what they’re (jockeys) doing and I know why they’re doing it and I’m not going against them and doing it to try to prove a point.”

ARC announced in December it was cutting back on its contributions as the operator prepares for an expected shortfall in the levy because of anticipated 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, owners and jockeys, and the situation came to a head last month when two races at Lingfield were boycotted – with no runners declared in one and Greybychoice enjoying his walkover in another.

A race at Sedgefield on Sunday was reduced to a walkover, with Donald McCain donating his prize-money to the Injured Jockeys Fund, and Classic-winning trainer Ralph Beckett was among those keen to take further action at meetings at ARC tracks for three days this week.

Another ARC course, Fontwell, is also due to race on Wednesday. A total of 82 entries were made for that card, and declarations will close on Tuesday morning.

Further discussions between ARC and key industry figures are due to take place on Tuesday.

Jockey Racheal Kneller posted on Twitter: “One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made was to turn down rides at Lingfield & Southwell this week…turning down opportunities and riding fees is not a decision I took lightly, nor the other guys either.

“I hope this boycott makes a difference because we are all suffering here.”

The Professional Jockeys Association sent out a letter to all of its members on Monday morning, stressing each individual jockey must make “his or her own decision”.

The letter read: “With regards to races due to be run later this week, if Lingfield’s declarations are anything to go by it would appear that very few horses will be declared but those that are declared will require jockeys.

“The PJA cannot and does not tell you not to ride – to do so would be inappropriate and, more importantly, potentially unlawful.

“We appreciate this will place individuals in a very difficult position but there is unfortunately nothing we can do to prevent that.

“Each individual jockey must take his or her own decision and our advice would be to speak to your main trainer(s) so any decisions you take are informed ones, and hopefully the agreement between ARC and the NTF makes whatever decision you take easier to justify.”

Beckett, a member of the NTF’s presidential triumvirate, said in a statement on Monday: “As horsemen and women, we are very disappointed for the general public that they will not get the show they deserve in the coming days at ARC tracks.

“We are pleased that owners initiated the widespread decision by so many individuals to demonstrate to ARC that the livelihoods of many trainers, their staff, and jockeys depend on reasonable prize-money levels.

“It is encouraging that it has been taken seriously, and we hope that we will not have to resort to such extreme measures in future. We look forward to constructive negotiations in the coming days and weeks, and hope that ARC and the RCA (Racecourse Association) will now be open and transparent, so that together we can help secure the future of British racing with a funding model that works for all.”

David Armstrong, the new CEO of the RCA, said: “Our industry is facing some major economic challenges. Now is the time for all parties to work together collaboratively on developing solutions rather than focusing on short term differences.

“We look forward to engaging in the upcoming conversations in a positive and open spirit.”

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