It’s better to be safe than sorry with jumps champ

Champion jumper Bashboy will be forced into retirement on August 1. Picture: Michael Klein

Matt StewartHerald Sun

THE frustration of those who would benefit from the ongoing story of Bashboy — his owners, various race-clubs, fans — is understandable.

Under age-restriction rules imposed by Racing Australia, the champion steeplechaser is young enough to race one day, too old the next — “absurd’’, says Ballarat Racing Club CEO Lachlan McKenzie.

“The horse has been raced sparingly and has been looked after. He’s such a great drawcard and horse racing needs promoting. His presence would have had a profound effect on the crowd.”

Top trainer Eric Musgrove described the rule as “silly’’, adding that if a stringent vet test proved Bashboy was sound the horse should be allowed to race beyond the age-restriction.

Bashboy is the hero of a sport that has always needed heroes to distract from critical eyes.

A year ago at Ballarat he provided the greatest local jumps highlight in recent memory, leaping off the canvas to win the Grand National Steeplechase, ridden by Ruby Walsh, a champion Irishman whose pairing with our champion gave our jumps industry a sense of international legitimacy.

But there is a modern reality about jumps racing — horse racing — that means it is conducted with protective conditions; from restricted whipping to age cut-offs.

They are seemingly unfair but unavoidable for a sport always a whisker from a damaging whack.

The man responsible for dozens of dead and starving horses at Bulla is a licensed horse trainer; a rogue anomaly but to the outside world a stain on a sport on the edge of acceptance.

For racing, perceptions are realities. It must protect itself from even remote potential harm, no matter how absurd or counter-productive those protections may seem.

The risk of allowing a 13-year-old horse to race, even one as sound and mighty as Bashboy, is the ammunition provided to racing’s detractors if something goes wrong.

2015 Australian Grand National Steeplechase

Plummeting crowds at major race meetings, flat and up-and-over, in part reflect the growing gap between racing and the changing world around it.

The confusion of the Bashboy situation is that this age rule in no way reflects his ability to race as well at 13 as he did at 12.

His connections would never intentionally put him at risk. They would argue the benefit of having him compete would outweigh the risk of the old horse coming to grief.

But some things are beyond the control of a fit, champion horse and the due diligence of those who race him, especially in races involving obstacles.

Bashboy may well be the baffling victim of a rule without wriggle room. But even in this unusual case maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry.

He’s earned connections $1 million over the jumps. He will exit the stage at Bendigo on July 24, a week before the calendar says he turns 13. Some may say the timing is perfect.

Bashboy won’t be able to defend his Grand National Steeplechase title this year. Picture: Mark Dadswell

Bashboy won’t be able to defend his Grand National Steeplechase title this year. Picture: Mark DadswellSource:News Corp Australia

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