FONTWELL and Southwell are the latest tracks to be hit as trainers appear to have followed through on their threat of further boycott action against Arena Racing Company-owned venues in an escalating row over prize money.
A total of 27 runners will contest six races at Fontwell today, while Southwell’s six events on the all-weather tomorrow have drawn just 20 contenders.
It comes after just 16 horses were declared earlier in the week for today’s Flat fixture at Lingfield in which only five riders will compete.
Trainers had signalled their intention to take action this week as they continue to battle with ARC over the operator’s decision to cut back on their contributions to prize money at their 16 tracks nationwide, including Doncaster.
It was announced in December that changes would be made as ARC prepare for an expected shortfall in the levy because of anticipated betting-shop closures following the Government’s decision to lower the maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals from £100 to £2.
This decision has been met with dismay by many trainers, owners and jockeys, and the situation came to a head last month when two races at Lingfield were boycotted – with no runners declared in one and Nick Littmoden’s Greybychoice enjoying a walkover in another.
Another race at Sedgefield on Sunday was reduced to a walkover, but there appeared to have been a positive development on Saturday evening when ARC and the National Trainers Federation issued a joint-statement in which ARC committed to unlocking extra funds for all eligible races in March.
However, the truce appears to be temporary as jockeys come under pressure to snub the meetings.
Former Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Nico De Boinville, Aidan Coleman and Gavin Sheehan are among a handful of high-profile riders who will be in action at Fontwell.
De Boinville has stated the boycott has his backing, yet he feels he should ride Eglantier for Mark Bradstock and his fee will go to the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.
The rider, and Bradstock, teamed up to win the 2015 Gold Cup with the now retired Coneygree and de Boinville tweeted: “I fully support the current ARC boycott. However, I feel obliged to ride for one of my main stables tomorrow. I will be donating my riding fee to the @IJF_official.”
De Boinville is also stable jockey to champion trainer Nicky Henderson, who remains “very hopeful” of leading fancy Santini overcoming a late scare to make the line-up for the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
The seven-year-old has won one of his two starts over fences this term, finishing third behind star mare La Bague Au Roi when upped to Grade One company on Boxing Day.
Off the track since that run, Henderson opted to take Santini for a racecourse gallop at Newbury on Sunday, but he pulled off a shoe in the process and is now battling to be fit for the RSA on the second day of the Festival.
Henderson tweeted yesterday afternoon: “Unfortunately Santini is still rather sore on his near-fore foot as a result of losing a shoe on Sunday and is quite lame.
“He has exercised on the treadmill this morning and the foot was re-poulticed afterwards.
“It is extremely frustrating and we are monitoring the situation, but are obviously still very hopeful of making the RSA. It’s a day by day process but we’ll keep you updated accordingly.”
Meanwhile Gordon Elliott has confirmed that Samcro, victorious at Cheltenham last year, will not line up next week.
Owned by Gigginstown House Stud, the horse was found to have developed a lung infection after finishing a laboured fifth at Leopardstown over Christmas.
“Cheltenham is just going to come a week or two too soon,” said Elliott. “At the best of times you’ve got to be absolutely spot on for Cheltenham and while Samcro is in very good shape myself, we feel that the right thing to do by the horse is to give him more time.
“There is every chance that Samcro could run again this season and there are a range of suitable races for him at those meetings so hopefully we will see him back in action next month.”
Samcro has long been seen as a potential star over fences and Elliott confirmed he will go chasing next season.