Sunday, December 15, 2013

That was the week that was

I've remembered, prompted in part by today's Racing Post, that we had a notable event at Southwell about three weeks ago which we ought to highlight.  Paddy Aspell and Donna Caldwell rode in the same race, and I believe that this was the first time in Britain that a husband and wife have ridden in the same race as professional jockeys.  I'm sure that it's happened in the amateur ranks, and umpteen times overseas (Bob and Jenny Vance? Jim and Trudy Collett?) but I can't think of a previous instance in Britain.  So we ought to acknowledge that little milestone, particularly as we've been thinking about female jockeys thanks to Lee Mottershead, particularly as Paddy rode Fen Flyer for us at Kempton on Thursday (pictured) and then rode the winner of the race before Russian Link's at Southwell on Friday, and particularly as Donna is in today's Racing Post for the fact of it being 2,722 days and counting since she last saluted the judge.  (And one should point out that she didn't have a license for most of that time, working as a policewoman and then being busy with the early years of rearing a child).

Anyway, the snippet on Donna in today's Racing Post was interesting, one of several interesting bits in the paper.  It's funny because I wouldn't have recognised her from the photograph which accompanied the snippet, which is remarkable as I see her every day.  I couldn't help wondering if the picture editor is being mischievous: he could hardly have picked a more tomboyish photograph and, even though I had put Donna in as a 250/1 outsider in the 15-runner race which Lee has created, you'd have to feel that this photograph suggests that we might want to trim those odds just a fraction.

Further points of interest in today's Racing Post include the article on the HK Whytewash in which Robert Cowell and Steve Drowne express their surprise that there was supposedly no riding offence in the HK Sprint.  Going back to yesterday's chapter, I suppose that there is a fifth possible explanation for the stewards' decision - that they did not have access to the head-on film shown on At The Races - but that seems most unlikely of all.  I think that we can conclude from the fact that the HKJC have not appealed the verdict of the raceday stewards that the decision to reach this surprising and seemingly unjustifiable conclusion was prompted by a directive from above.

Compare and contrast with the incident in Sweden a year or two ago when Eddie Ahern caused a fall in which a good horse and his jockey Freddie Johannson were both badly hurt.  Eddie was given a two-week ban, but the Swedish Jockey Club understandably considered that this was too lenient and appealed the sentence, which was subsequently increased.  The unfortunate post-script came when the senior race-day steward consequently resigned as he felt that his authority had been undermined by his employers.  The HKJC, of course, have the option to take a similar course of action regarding the Sha Tin stewards' seemingly bizarre verdict, and I think that we can take it that it's significant that they have not done so when they know that doing so would repair a lot of the serious damage which has been done to Hong Kong's reputation for integrity and fair play.

As well as having massive sympathy for the Watson family (owners of Jwala), Robert Cowell and Steve Drowne, we also should, of course, continue to have sympathy for Gerard Butler.  I have been castigated in the past for saying this, but I think that it's worth repeating again - and I was very pleased to see NASS chief George McGrath say the same thing in today's Racing Post.  The fact that one acknowledges that Gerard has done wrong and has deserved his very harsh punishment doesn't mean that we shouldn't feel sorry for him.  For sure his transgressions were major, but he is paying a very, very heavy price.  He's the victim of this sorry tale as well as the villain, and I'd seriously question the humanity of anyone who didn't feel sorry for him.

Regarding the subject of Gerard's appeal, which has been one of racing's news stories of the week, I'm surprised and disappointed by his decision to appeal, but there's no disputing that he does have one very solid foundation on which to base an appeal.  Common sense says that the (very stiff) punishment fits the (very serious) crime, and on that basis it's hard to understand an appeal.  But the fact is that the BHA made a rod for its own back in this respect when treating Nicky Henderson so leniently a few years ago when he was found to have been showing a similarly startling disregard for the doping rules, and the message sent out to all trainers then was crystal-clear: irrespective of how major your transgression, you won't have to pack up training.

As things stand, Gerard is having to pack up training for a minimum of five years, and in practice almost certainly for life - and any good lawyer who uses the Henderson judgement as a precedent should be able to construct a very, very solid case for Gerard's penalty being slashed.  And for this the BHA has no one to blame but itself.  This precedent, of course, pre-dates Paul Bittar's rule, but that doesn't alter the fact that it exists; and, assuming that this is the base for Gerard's appeal, the BHA is likely to find itself with a major problem on its hands.

This chapter's photographs were all taken in the past week, when the weather has been considerably less unpleasant than one would expect for the second week of December.


neil kearns said...

Two wrongs never make a right Henderson should have got five years but it would have been far too embarrassing for the authorities Butler to the general populace is little known and therefore can be hung out to dry -if his brief his smart he will get Butler reduced and. Henderson retrospectively nailed for the five years he deserved don't forget the double jeopardy law has been recently repealed

Alan March said...

Now that would be interesting Neil. Deserved but that really would set the cat amongst the pigeons.
John, I understand your sympathy for Butler on a human level but driven by poor results, and elements of despair I'm sure, he brought this on himself. Tragic for him, his family and employees but racing has to stand up to this. Would it really shock us to find others have done similar things? Time to stand up and really punish and deter. And if that means retrospectively for Henderson I'd support that too.

neil kearns said...

Alan agree with you can totally - just have a feeling that the bigger name you are the less likely you are to be really punished . See JBs point about Butler the man and feel sorry for the family but he knew what he was doing and what was likely to happen if caught AND it has to be stamped out or you at as well go to the US model of drugging everything which to me is an abomination