Phumelela has commended Gold Circle for its decision to introduce barrier trials but will not necessarily follow suit in its racing regions.
Barrier trials are basically practice races and are part and parcel of the horseracing scene at jockey clubs in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Barrier trials are beneficial for horses who have not run before and in Australia for example, trainers consider them essential in order to prepare a horse for its first race.
Barrier trials are often held before or a er race meetings and give unraced horses the full race- meeting experience – the journey to the racecourse, the crowd buzz and if there are enough horses participating in the trial, it’s just like a real race but with no real pressure to win.
All in all such trials or practice races improve unraced horses much more than a gallop with one or two working companions and can also assist enormously in honing the fitness of horses returning from a layoff.
Plus they enable trainers to better assess the prospects of first-timers and runners coming o rests.
Gold Circle has announced that all unraced horses and those returning from long layoffs will have to participate in a barrier trial before being allowed to race in KwaZulu-Natal.
The barrier trials will be held before the rst race or after the last race on the Polytrack at Greyville.
Because barrier trials are open to the public and o en televised, it’s an opportunity for horseplayers to assess the ability or fitness of a horse for themselves.
That brings a welcome transparency, although this element of barrier trials is often overstated.
At the end of the day it’s not a real race and horses can excel in barrier trials only to fail on race day. Or they may not shine in practice, but the experience brings on them on so much that they are a different story come a real race.
Paul Lafferty, chairman of the KZN Trainers Association and a driving force behind the introduction of barrier trials in that province, is excited and believes they will enhance consumer condence in the sport.
He reckons they will offer potential owners the chance to see a horse in action, which can assist trainers who still have shares available in a horse.
But it would be foolhardy to believe barrier trials will necessarily prove a remedy for the many challenges facing horseracing. They were introduced on an experimental basis in South Africa in the 1990s and fizzled out after failing to make an impact, and as Phumelela CEO Rian du Plessis has pointed out, they do come at a cost.
“Gold Circle can be commended for this initiative, but our position remains that the cost and additional wear on our turf surfaces is substantial,” he said.
“We have found no factual evidence substantiating that these negatives will be outweighed by the positives. We will monitor the situation very closely and will naturally change if our position is proved incorrect.”
More than 5,000 horses make their debuts or return from lay- offs of 90 days or more annually in South Africa.
To hold barrier trials for them in Johannesburg and Cape Town, which have no Polytracks, will have a negative impact on grass racing surfaces and add significantly to transport costs.
At city tracks in New South Wales in Australia, owners pay over Aus$200 for a horse to trial.
All things considered, full marks to Gold Circle for a bold initiative and time will judge whether it’s worth expanding barrier trials into the other racing centres.