By: Michael Lynch
Cobalt cases, drug infractions and the subsequent banning of a handful of trainers, pending appeal, have ensured that it has been a nightmare 12 months for the Victorian training fraternity.
Inevitably the publicity that has accompanied the slew of high-profile cases, none more so than the headlines this week involving multiple group 1-winning handlers Mark Kavanagh and Danny O’Brien, has been a bad look for racing.
The new administration of the Melbourne-based Australian Trainers’ Association is determined to make 2016 a clean slate, a year in which it reinvigorates the organisation and works with other arms of the racing industry to not just improve the lot of racehorse trainers but also to help them promote the sport positively.
Andrew Nicholl, a man who has spent his life in the risk assessment insurance sector before switching to racing last October – perfect preparation, it might be said, for such a volatile sport as racing – is now at the helm of the ATA and he is “anxious to put racing on the front page for the right reasons”.
“Drugs are a major issue for us to confront, of course they are. A lot of that is about education and liaison with the racing authorities, proper counselling and knowledge for trainers who do often rely on vets and others for all their advice,” Nicholl said.
“Many trainers are small businessmen, often financially stretched and under-resourced and they simply aren’t always across the situation with certain therapeutics.
“For example, in the last 18 months racing authorities nationally have introduced or amended 35 rules of racing. That’s a lot of detail for people who are hands on and working flat out to get across. It’s more than were added in the previous five years.”
Nicholl, who succeeded former ATA chief executive John Alducci (who is still with the organisation), is trying to hit the ground running in the first quarter of this year with a series of multi-subject forums in which trainers can seek advice and information on how they can improve their business – and avoid the pitfalls which have seen some of their contemporaries put in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
“We want more collaboration and engagement at a broader level,” says Nicholl.
“We are running forums in Ballarat, Bendigo, Benalla and Mornington: we have up to 100 trainers attending in each location along with senior figures from Racing Victoria.