Boycott extends to Fontwell and Southwell

Just 47 runners at two ARC cards – but no walkovers

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Fontwell and Southwell are the latest tracks to be hit as trainers appear to have followed through on their threat of further boycott action against Arena Racing Company-owned venues.

A total of 27 runners will contest six races at Fontwell on Wednesday, while Southwell’s six events on Thursday have drawn just 20 contenders – with each fixture featuring a match race.

Trainers had signalled their intention to take action over three days this week as they continue to battle with ARC over the operator’s decision to cut back on its contributions to prize money at its 16 tracks nationwide.

It was announced in December that changes would be made as ARC 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 Nick Littmoden’s Greybychoice enjoying a walkover in another.

Another race at Sedgefield on Sunday was reduced to a walkover, but there appeared to have been 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.

That announcement came after entries were made for Lingfield’s Wednesday fixture, with 40 possibles duly reduced to just 17 runners at Monday’s declaration deadline.

Only five jockeys are prepared to ride on the card, with a number of riders issuing a rallying call as they throw their weight behind the protest.

Nico De Boinville, Aidan Coleman and Gavin Sheehan are among a handful of of high-profile riders who will be in action at Fontwell on Wednesday.

De Boinville has stated the boycott has his backing, yet he feels he should ride Eglantier for Mark Bradstock and his fee will go to the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.

The jockey tweeted: “I fully support the current ARC boycott. However, I feel obliged to ride for one of my main stables tomorrow. I will be donating my riding fee to the @IJF_official.”

David Bridgwater sends out one of the two horses in the match race, as well as fielding a last-time-out winner in the opening handicap chase, and the handler is not getting involved in any boycott talk.

He said: “I’ve no view on it, I’m straight down the middle.

“(Ex-jockey) Philip Hide is the clerk of the course at Fontwell, he is an old friend and I like to support him.

“I’ve always had runners at Fontwell, it’s a lovely track.”

Adam West has declared three horses at Southwell and while he backs the principle of the argument, he did not feel able to support the boycott action at the Nottinghamshire track.

He said: “I’m 100 per cent behind the National Trainers Federation, all the jockeys and everything else, but in my circumstances and for my horses, this was the right thing to do.

“The boycott has been badly organised and it’s been hard to find out what is going on and what we are doing. Training horses doesn’t allow you to make last-minute decisions.

“I spoke to my owners and we said if the horses were going to be running in walkovers we wouldn’t bother, as they’re young horses that want an education and that wouldn’t do them any good. I know they’re not big races, but they’re important to them.

“If this was a real stand, then they should boycott a Saturday meeting with a Class 2 (race) in it.

“To have these three races in one spot makes it more efficient in terms of costs and they obviously become a factor because of prize-money, so it is a vicious circle.

“I very much agree that prize-money does need to be better, but it’s not just going to be ARC – it’s going to be everyone in the general climate we are in.”

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