Why the apprentice pay system had to change - PJA chief Paul Struthers

UK Professional Jockeys' Association chief executive Paul Struthers has broken his silence on the escalating row over apprentice pay, insisting no issue had been raised more regularly by young riders and their parents in his eight years in the job.

Struthers said he had been at pains to avoid a public argument about the new BHA rules on pay and expenses, which come into force next March and have drawn an outcry from some trainers.

But after trainer Andrew Balding informed four youngsters who were due to join his Kingsclere academy there would no longer be places for them, Struthers argued that "maintaining a dignified silence is no longer tenable".

The changes mean apprentices will receive a larger share of prize-money and riding fees. Previously Flat trainers retained up to 50 per cent of an apprentice’s riding fee and prize-money yields, depending on their claim and regardless of who they rode for, in return for paying towards the jockey's expenses, such as travel and certain items of kit. However, the PJA believed this system was abused by some trainers.

In a letter to the Racing Post, Struthers said: "I appreciate some feel a 'mountain has been made out of a molehill' and I fully acknowledge there are many good employers that were playing it by the book – and indeed in some cases going over and above what was required.

“That said, since I took this role almost eight years ago no single issue has been so contentious and come up with such regularity – from both young jockeys and their parents – as this one and I can assure everyone that it was very much a 'mountain' that needed addressing for those impacted by trainers not adhering to their contractual obligations."

Struthers added: "We are of course deeply saddened if those aspiring to be future jockeys are now denied an opportunity to fulfil that dream with their employer of choice, particularly in circumstances where financial analysis demonstrated that those playing it by the book, let alone those going above and beyond what was required, would not be significantly worse off."

Analysis undertaken by the BHA suggests that under the current system trainers netted £430,000 from apprentices' riding earnings after VAT and paying their share of expenses, including mileage, in 2018, whereas under the new system that figure will reduce to £206,000, with apprentices now responsible for all their own expenses, including mileage.

Struthers spells out the process that the various parties went through in an attempt to find a payment structure upon which all could agree and says that in September it looked as if agreement had been reached on a model which would hopefully have the support of the NTF's Flat committee.

However, while the PJA was informed in November that the NTF could not agree to the proposals, the NTF failed to offer any alternatives. 

While the final decision was properly left to the BHA, whose board agreed unanimously to the proposals, Struthers says they had to take into account all of the evidence and viewpoints in order to come to the right decision, and "not simply navigate a path of least resistance by appeasing those shouting loudest".

Referring not only to Andrew Balding, but also to Richard Fahey, Richard Hannon and now Mick Easterby, who in a letter to the Racing Post has joined the others in indicating he will no longer take on apprentices, Struthers said: "Trainers shouldn't be angry at me, Nick Rust, the PJA or the BHA and they should not take their anger out on the jockeys and work riders of the future."