The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre (BTRC), Britain’s oldest and biggest charity dedicated to the welfare of racehorses after they have retired from racing, is in danger of closure after 31 years.
And it is the horse racing industry’s own charity Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) in the dock, accused of orchestrating the catastrophe after cutting off funding four years ago.
Although their charter obliges the RoR to support thoroughbred charities, since June 2018 it has withheld any funding to the BTRC apart from one back payment, a grant for temporary stables and a 12-month £50,000 loan repayable at the end of this year.
“The RoR was set up by the racing industry to assist charities like the BTRC carry out its important work with thoroughbred horses, but they are wilfully putting our near 200 horses at risk” said BTRC Chairman John Sexton, a former leading horse racing journalist.
“This is in direct contravention to their mission statement to the Charities Commission which is “to promote the welfare and rehabilitation of racehorses and former racehorses which are unwanted or vulnerable to abandonment, abuse, misuse or neglect, or otherwise in need of care and attention, in particular by means of retraining and rehousing.
“As, despite its name, Retraining of Racehorses doesn’t actually do any retraining or rehoming, that mission statement means they are duty bound to support charities which do and they have, willingly and by choice, acted contrary to that duty.
“I have twice asked the RoR Chairman Philip Freedman how he squares the mission statement with putting nearly 200 thoroughbreds at risk, but there has been no reply” Sexton added.
Problems between the two organisations began in 2015 when the RoR took the arbitrary decision to change from block funding charities and replace it with a new contract system which paid by the horse with a cap of 15 horses.
“At first glance, the system seems to be fair, but it had been tried in other jurisdictions and shown to have massive flaws, not least that it is open to fraud and that the RoR could end up paying for horses without the right checks and balances being in place, something we warned them about.
“That latter point was proved tragically correct in 2018 when RoR paid over £8,000 to Annette Nally, whose yard was raided by the RSPCA just a few weeks later where they found dead and severely emaciated horses. She was later jailed for causing cruelty to horses” Sexton said.
By then, the RoR had already stopped funding the BTRC, who have helped thousands of thoroughbreds over its 31 years, as the Board of Trustees refused to sign a second contract.
“I explained to the then RoR Chairman Paul Roy our concerns over the system being open to fraud and also that the cap of 15 horses did not work for us. We have 40 boxes at Whinney Hill and deal with many more vulnerable horses than 15 in a year, but the answer was to cut off funding.
“After more than a year without RoR funding, I even suggested a system where we were paid for the previous year’s work so they knew exactly what they were supporting, but this was rejected out of hand” Sexton said.
As a Charity committed to helping all thoroughbreds in need, the BTRC relies on financial support from the Friends of the BTRC, who give a small amount each month, the Peter O’Sullevan Trust, who make an annual award and the RoR.
Starved of a vital part of their income, the BTRC was forced to start using its reserves to make up for the annual shortfall.
“We have always been well managed and kept in reserve around £500,000 – approximately one year’s running costs for our 200-acre retraining Centre – but they have all gone now. They would have gone even sooner had the Racing Foundation not stepped in to help us during the two years of the Covid Pandemic.
“At the end of last year, I went cap in hand to RoR to beg for help. We were offered the £50,000 loan repayable in 12 months, but only on condition we signed the contract.
“I felt like it was blackmail, but under duress, I signed the contract. We got the loan but have had no other financial assistance. We have dealt with 37 horses under our vulnerable horse programme since the beginning of December when I signed the contract, but the RoR have refused to support any of them.
“I was even told that if they had agreed to support some of the horses, there would have been no payment to the BTRC but the money would be kept until the £50,000 loan had been paid off.
“The RoR is sitting on over £8 million in investments, yet they seem prepared to let a Centre like the BTRC go out of business and put the near 200 horses we have out on loan or here at the Centre at risk. It is a scandal” Sexton added.
And he continued: “I have been a racing journalist for nearly 50 years. The industry employs around 80,000 people and I would like to bet that well over 79,900 of them will be shocked and disgusted by what is being done in their name.
“I hope that those who feel strongly will voice their support for us and perhaps consider joining the Friends of the BTRC, who give what they can each month to help us. If 8,000 committed to give just £5 a month, less than the cost of two cups of coffee, we would be able to survive”.
Notes to Editors
The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre was founded in 1991 as the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre by Carrie Humble, using a handful of rented boxes at Kendal. It was the first Centre of its type in Europe. Carrie was later awarded the MBE for her work.
After rescuing the 1984 Grand National winner Hallo Dandy, the TRC moved to a rented yard at Nateby near Garstang before making a third move in 2004 to its current base at Whinney Hill, Halton, Lancaster, a former dairy farm purchased with the help of Retraining of Racehorses and with the promise of incremental support year on year. The Centre was opening by the Princess Royal.
The name of the charity was changed in 2016 after permission was granted for ‘British’ to be appended in recognition of the Centre’s standing as the oldest and biggest charity dedicated to the welfare of retired racehorses.
The BTRC has never bought or sold a horse. Horses gifted to the Centre become the property of the BTRC and after going through the retraining programme they are matched with applicants and sent out on permanent lifetime loan. Should the loaner suffer a change of circumstances which means they can no longer keep the horse, it returns to the Centre.
Although the BTRC takes some horses directly from racing with a donation for its racing owner, the majority enter the Centre through its Vulnerable Horse Programme.
A.Nally Case: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-49609758
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