It perhaps depends on where you consume your news and media as to what you know about Charlie Brooks.
The husband of News UK chief Rebekah Brooks, you may know him as the unwitting subject of a phone hacking enquiry that led to him hiding ‘erotic art’ he had collected in fear of his home being raided by the police.
You may also know him as the man who, allegedly, drank a pint of washing up liquid as a cure for a hangover (don’t try this at home, folks).
And then there are those who will remember Brooks as a talented young jockey, whose career was cruelly cut short when he suffered a stroke. Turning to life as a trainer, he led Couldn’t Be Better and Suny Bay to Hennessy Gold Cup victories – the latter also twice finishing runner-up in the Grand National.
So he knows a bit about the sport….and Brooks is concerned that UK horse racing is heading for the doldrums.
As he wrote in a column in The Telegraph newspaper, conditions created by the Brexit agreement have made it more difficult for owners and trainers to compete overseas – as well as bringing new racing stock into the UK.
The fear is that could prove catastrophic for the long-term future of the equine sector….
How Has Brexit Affected Horse Racing?
Nick Skelton, the Olympic gold medal winning show jumper and father of National Hunt trainer-jockey combo Dan and Harry, confirmed Brooks’ worst fears.
“The equine business is being killed by Brexit,” he said. “It’s been catastrophic as far as the movement of horses to and from Europe is concerned.
The over-zealous rules regarding imports and exports, the miles of red tape and the sheer cost of moving horses to and from Europe is astronomical, and the fear is now that fewer owners will want to invest in the sport – a sport, it should be said, that adds around £4 billion to the UK economy each year, in addition to the thousands of people that it employs.
Skelton, it transpires, has decided to up sticks. He used to run an equestrian training facility in Warwickshire, but the complications of moving his horses – he trains more than 60 from around the continent – has forced the Olympian to instead set up a new base in the Netherlands.
Some trainers in horse racing have spoken of significant delays at the Calais border as the necessary paperwork is completed, and there is also the need to book expensive vets trips in France to ensure that the horses involved are fit to race. The waiting time can put the horse through undesired stress in transit.
John Gosden, one of the best in the business, has revealed that he has no plans to run in France any time soon – and that’s coming from a former Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner.
On Twitter, the trainer Richard Hobson shared a receipt for sending three of his horses to France – from transportation and customs fees to vets bills and certification – which came to the best part of £2,000.
Cost of 3 horses going to France bravo to those who voted Brexit 👏 pic.twitter.com/4lIxofT9tO
— Richard Hobson (@RHBloodstock) February 10, 2021
“The bottom line is [previously] I was paying for the ferry, a £50 export licence and a racecourse clearance to go to France.”
The British Horseracing Authority has published comprehensive guidelines as to how UK based trainers can move their horses overseas and the costs implied, and the countless pages reveal just how complex and perhaps convoluted the whole process is.
Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer young trainers and owners are starting out in horse racing?
Token Effort or a Time for Change?
The UK government has apparently said they will ‘look at’ the increasing hurdles, if you’ll pardon the pun, that the industry is currently facing.
Let’s hope that’s not the usual token talk and actually leads to change, because the data – collated by the BHA and published by the BBC – does not make for welcome reading.
The stats reveal that the entries made by UK based trainers for races in EU countries has fallen by 67% since the Brexit deal was reached, and looking the other way the number of EU trained horses running in the UK and Ireland has fallen by a whopping 92%.
The situation has affected breeders and their stock too, with permanent exports falling by 30% and temporary moves by some 61%.
A spokesperson for the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said:
“To ensure movements to EU countries can continue as smoothly as possible, we have implemented a range of initiatives to increase the number of certifiers to meet demand for export health certification.
“We continue to meet regularly with key industry stakeholders, and authorities in France and Ireland, to understand difficulties associated with the movement of equines as they arise.”
But the question remains: will there efforts be enough to safeguard the future of British horse racing?