Donald McCain: Jump racing needs a longer summer break to tackle staff burnout and small field sizes

Trainer Donald McCain has called on horseracing to introduce a longer summer break in the jumps calendar amid concerns over staff burnout and the competitiveness of field sizes.

Last month saw a record low number of runners in jump races with over 28 per cent featuring five runners or fewer, while average field sizes dropped to below seven for the first time since British Horseracing Authority (BHA) records began in 1995.

The alarming statistics have also led championship-leading trainer Fergal O’Brien, who has celebrated 30 winners since the season began in May, to raise his concerns and urge industry leaders to make significant changes to the fixture list, including a reduction in the number of jump meetings and a move to evening slots.

McCain would go further and introduce a significant break with fixtures moved to later in the year. 2022 saw just a seven-day gap between Sandown’s season finale and the next jumps fixture at Hexham on April 30.

“You used to look forward to the end of the season and really look forward to the start of the next,” McCain told Sky Sports Racing. “Where we are now is that everyone has their own agenda and they’re all thinking about themselves.

“I see my staff working every day and there’s no way they can’t benefit from having a month or six weeks off in the summer.

“You work all year to train as many winners as you can and a few days later you’re back to zero and working all over again.

“The endless grind is unhealthy. The staff and the people involved in the industry are bottom of the heap when it comes to being looked after.

“There’s a bigger issue here and it’s the general health of the industry and keeping everyone wanting to work in it.

“I’m not even on about losing meetings, just push them apart and have a break in the middle.”

‘I have the complaints, but I don’t have the answers’

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Fergal O’Brien, leading trainer in the Jumps Championship, has called on racing’s authorities to reduce the number of fixtures, particularly during the summer campaign.

O’Brien believes the problem is not isolated to the summer jumps campaign, highlighting last month’s Newmarket fixture (June 25) which attracted just 38 runners across its seven races.

“I don’t think this is a Jumps issue, it’s a racing issue, winter or summer,” O’Brien said. “The Flat boys are struggling too.

“There’s just too much racing at this time of year when it’s a bit of a down time. We had two [Jumps] fixtures the other day and we just don’t need to do that. It spreads it all a bit thin.

“I’m not saying it because it’s to our benefit, it’s not. We’ve benefitted from it [busy schedule] but it’s not for the good of the sport. It’s not about Fergal O’Brien, it’s about jump racing in general.

“Three days a week would be plenty and all these should be evening meetings in the summer.

“I’m like all the other people who moan and groan: I have the complaints, but I don’t have the answers.

“None of my owners buy a summer horse, they buy a horse they hope will win the Gold Cup. Sometimes you end up running at this time of year because of the ground or being competitive. I don’t think [losing fixtures] will put people off but what will is it all being uncompetitive.

“If we could condense it for two or three months that’d be great.”

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