Story and Photos courtesy of Graham Potter and www.horseracingonly.com.auBy Robert Heathcote | Thursday, February 10, 2011
Robert Heathcote is the leading racehorse trainer in Brisbane. 'Rob's Shout' - the personal blog of the premiership winning trainer will appear every Thursday on HRO.Rather disturbingly to me, we have recently seen an instance whereby a trainer has been charged and fined a substantial amount after being found ‘guilty of conduct prejudicial to the image, or interests, or welfare of racing.’Robert Bradshaw was fined the sum of $2000 after comments he allegedly made were published in the Sunshine Coast Daily.After an inquiry into the matter, Racing Queensland stewards came to the conclusion that, ‘On the evidence provided it was established that Mr Bradshaw could not substantiate the comments attributed to him which were subject of the inquiry and subsequently he pleaded guilty to a charge under AR175A which reads:‘Any person bound by these Rules who either within a racecourse or elsewhere in the opinion of the Committee of any Club or the Stewards has been guilty of conduct prejudicial to the image, or interests, or welfare of racing may be penalised. ‘The specifics of the charge being that licensed trainer Mr Robert Bradshaw did make inaccurate comments that were subsequently reported in the Sunshine Coast Daily Newspaper on Thursday, January 27, 2011, regarding the maintenance program and attrition rate of horses exercised on the Corbould Park cushion track which in the opinion of the stewards is conduct prejudicial to the image of racing.‘In assessing penalty stewards considered that inaccurate or untruthful comments made by a licensed person relating to matters of animal welfare had the capacity to reflect negatively on the sport of horseracing and its participants.’
Now let’s take one step back.
Referring to the original ‘offending’ article, we see that Mr Bradshaw allegedly made the following comments which are important to assess in order to help us understand the possible 'injustice' which may have been done in this case.
Mr Bradshaw is reported as having said, ‘the Cushion Track surface was too firm and posed a risk to runners.’ He added, ‘When I first moved here 18 months ago, the cushion track was a beautiful track to work on. It's nowhere near the same track now. I had a horse put down yesterday (last Tuesday) because of action on the cushion track.Then went further, ‘They call it a cushion track - I fell off there on Saturday morning and it was like falling off on to a bitumen road. It's too hard. They just don't do much maintenance out there. I think there's been a bit of a fuss lately about what's going on there.‘You've only got to do a bit of homework to find out that last week alone there could have been as many as 20 horses that broke down.’It was due to these comments and in particular Mr Bradshaw’s comment about 'there could have been as many as 20 horses that broke down' that he was considered to be in breach of the rules.Having now read the wording of the original article, you can see Mr Bradshaw actually said that there COULD have been as many as 20 break down (last week), not that 20 actually did!That makes a significant difference to the statement, particularly as Mr Bradshaw has distanced himself from the comment and claimed he was misquoted on the time frame.Apart from my obvious concern for the track situation, my major concern here is that we as trainers are often requested to give interviews and opinions to the media and there is no doubt that it's an important part of our industry.In fact, there was an incident recently down in Victoria where prominent owner Lloyd Williams was chastised for NOT giving an interview about a specific horse after a race, so it is important to give as much relevant information to the public as we can.Working with the media is vital, but in this instance, with Robert Bradshaw, I believe that all he did was give an opinion.It would have been a much more positive outcome for the industry and the cushion track if an immediate Forum had been announced for all either for or against the track to voice their opinions and to work to sort out the relevant issues.The controlling body could even have made a press release refuting the opinion of Mr Bradshaw with positive comments from the trainers who do believe the cushion track is fine to train and race on.There are 69 trainers at the Sunshine Coast and only a small section were heard from at the ensuing inquiry.Perhaps Robert Bradshaw would like to retract some of his comments he believed were misquoted? Either way, to me it's being very pedantic to find him guilty of the charge for voicing his opinion in what would have been a discussion with the journalist and the newspaper article itself does not 'condemn' Mr Bradshaw.We live in a democracy and whilst we, as licensees are bound by a rather rigid set of rules, it is an understandable outcome, given the circumstances, that some may feel that Mr Bradshaw has been made a scapegoat for speaking out against a track which has the full support of the industries controlling body, but not all of the trainers.The Stewards office held an further enquiry into the allegations or 'comments' as I would prefer to call them in which a number of locally based licence holders were invited to appear in what was believed to perhaps be a sit down with licence holders and officials to air any grievances with the cushion track .Several trainers who did appear at the enquiry, including Gail Harrison said there were many unhappy with the state of the cushion track!Frank Phillips, whilst saying he didn't agree with the manner in which Mr Bradshaw aired his thoughts, did hail him a hero for bringing the situation to light!Whilst there were a number of trainers who did turn up to voice their concerns, there were some invited who did not wish to give evidence, perhaps through fear of discrimination.Fear of discrimination, perceived or real, rightly or wrongly, has been a silencer for trainers speaking out over many, many years!There is little doubt that the introduction of the cushion tracks into South East Queensland Racing has always been dogged with plenty of opinion for and against from many stakeholders in thoroughbred racing - not only the construction and introduction of these tracks, but also to the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the tracks.Racing Queensland’s Director of Product development Paul Brennan responded to Mr Bradshaw’s claims about the cushion track in a follow-up article in the Sunshine Coast Daily.Mr Brennan is quoted as saying, ‘We’ve got a stringent maintenance regime that goes on every day. There are two different types of equipment that are used on that track to ensure it’s maintained properly and twice a day we actually take records of the track.'We take the temperature, we check the hardness and we do them at 200m intervals throughout the track. We provide all that information to the manufacturer who provides input back to Racing Queensland from that information.‘We’ve undertaken robust controls. We have daily record takings since the day the track was put in. We’ve got a historical database there that enables us to determine when the track needs fine-tuning and how it needs to be fine-tuned, because we can go back to the previous year and analyse what we did previously to ensure that we’re providing a similar surface year-round.’Whether all that is working well enough is obviously open to interpretation.This 'controversy' comes hot on the heels of the disastrous race day abandonment recently on the turf track at the Sunshine Coast.Kenne Sawyers was involved in a fall during the one race that took place on that day and he was hospitalized with multiple injuries.The injured jockey says the meeting should never have gone ahead due to the state of the turf track at the time.These comments have since been supported by a number of other senior jockeys. The Chief Steward said the fall was an isolated incident.Kenny Sawyers said the course maintenance standards had in recent years waned at all Queensland tracks, not just Corbould Park!Can Kenny now expect a visit from the Stewards? It was not all that long ago where a very prominent owner called the Eagle Farm track, a 'goat track', a comment which was published in the Courier Mail!I do not recall a charge of bringing racing into disrepute being laid.When the original crossing was at the 600m mark at Eagle Farm, I had a number of horses which would get injured or break down either directly because of it, or even indirectly, but I would not have been able to substantiate this claim with veterinary evidence, just as the trainers at Caloundra would not be able to do in the time frame allowed with regards to the Cushion Track.It's the experience we have as trainers over the years which allows us to make such judgements and 'observations'.I recall a bad fall at the top of the straight once in a feature race which was attributed to the crossing. A top horse was euthansed and in the ensuing inquiry the Chief Steward of the day said that statistics don't show many horses breaking down due to the crossing, so it’s not that bad a problem!Ask most trainers and they will tell you that, in their opinion, it was the cause of many, many injuries, even if statistics don't fully support that!I train at Eagle Farm where we predominantly use the dirt training track. There are times when maintenance is done on the track and it gets a bit loose and fluffy or there is a shortage of water as there was a year or two ago. Sometimes trainers are not happy, but like it or not, we voice our opinions and concerns to those responsible and we should not be in fear of being held accountable for those concerns. The bottom line, I guess, is that it's a point of argument whether Mr Bradshaw did in fact 'break the rules'. I have given my thoughts on the matter but, then again, that’s only an opinion - something we are all entitled to.**My comments regarding the ‘Bradshaw Case’ are based solely on the articles I have read in the newspapers and a brief conversation I had with Robert Bradshaw in which we touched base on the story.
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