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Officials under stopper's orders

IRISH trainers have reacted with disappointment, but not surprise, to Friday's decision by exasperated Turf Club employees to vote for strike action.

The workers have revolted due to threatened salary and expenses cuts and changes to contractual and working conditions. And, perhaps surprisingly, there are many in racing who are sympathetic to their plight.

Given the many problems presently afflicting the sport, and the spate of meetings lost to the weather in January, the prospect of meetings being called off because of industrial action is an alarming one for trainers and racecourse officials.

However, that is now a very real threat after the Turf Club employees' decision, which was taken following a three-hour meeting in a County Kildare hotel. The vote for strike action was carried by an 87.5 per cent majority.

Turf Club chief executive, Denis Egan, remains hopeful that the issues can be resolved, but the top brass in the organisation have been criticised for allowing the situation to deteriorate to such an extent that strike action was deemed unavoidable.

The cutbacks follow the budget, which further cut the state's contribution to Horse Racing Ireland (which in turn funds the Turf Club). Mandate says that the vast majority of officials will see an approximate 36.5 per cent cut in income if the Turf Club plans go ahead.

Irish Racehorse Trainers Association member Tom Hogan contends that workers' concerns should have been dealt with long before now.

"I'm very disappointed that we have arrived at this situation," said Hogan. "Most of these people going on strike are decent, honest people who work hard 365 days a year.

"I'm sure that if somebody from the industry could sit down and mediate these things, it would be sorted out. Also, the whole structure of management of officials has to be sorted out.

"You've very good clerks of courses sitting at the scales taking down weights, you've excellent starters doing the same thing; you've people very good in the stewards' room doing something else. The whole thing is amiss.

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"You can't have a fellow in goal today playing on the wing tomorrow, full forward the day after and expect him to be equally proficient. I wouldn't expect my secretary to be able to ride my best horses in work, or my best work rider to be in the office doing up my VAT. The way it's being run at the moment is not professional."

Given the recent revelations about an employee of trainer Charles Byrnes being punished for backing the yard's horses to lose in selected races, the proposed slashing of the Turf Club's "integrity budget" is rather untimely. This budget is concerned with the sampling of horses through blood and urine, identification of all racehorses on a race day and the use of camera facilities.

"Trainers have their own worries -- most of them financial," Hogan added. "It's actually hard to lift our heads and look at any other problems with this going on."

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