Thursday, September 04, 2014


Right, tonight we'll just have the news, rather than the weather.  Well, we'll have to have just a little bit of weather: it's taken a turn for the better, as it's been dry and partially sunny, with daytime highs in the low 20s and overnight lows in the low teens.  So that's great, as the illustrations of this chapter, taken over the past few days, suggest.  And as for the news - well, it's rules, isn't it?  We've got the rule which has put a halt to Newcastle's AW development, and we've got the rule which allowed AP McCoy to be substituted for Rhys Flint at Southwell on Saint Helena yesterday.

The race-planning one was straightforward.  It's clearly against the rules for Newcastle (or any other course) to stage meetings with no races farther than a mile.  And that's just the way it should be.  If you want to bore your spectators rigid, keep the races as short as possible.  There's so much more to watch when they pass the post more than once; and it's not all about sprinting anyway.  The only slight complicating factor is that the rule is frequently not observed, but I hope that this means that the BHA will monitor the situation more closely in future, and make sure that all programmes adhere to the regulations.

In fact, the rule is too lax.  It used to be the case that each programme had to have at least two races farther than a mile, at distances at least a furlong apart.  And this was at a time when meetings generally only had six races, so basically at least a third of races had to be longer than a mile.  Which was really good.  Nowadays only one race per card needs to be longer than a mile, as long as that race, plus a mile race on the card, add up to at least two and a half miles.  So really we've gone from a situation which meant that at least a third of races had to be beyond a mile, to one in which at least a seventh (although, fortunately, in practice, considerably more than that) of all races have to be longer than a mile.

I'd like to see a reversion to the previous rule, with the extra stipulation thrown in that two of these races must add up to at least two and a half miles.  That would be a very good thing - and I'm not only saying that because I largely train stayers, but also because I think that in pretty much every respect it is a good thing for racing to have a strong programme of middle- or long-distance races right across the spectrum.

Another change I'd make would be to make sure that the rules respect the principal of overnight declaration of jockeys.  It was ridiculous that that substitution was permitted yesterday.  In an ideal world the connections would not have applied to make the change, not only because it's clearly a good thing from racing's point of view that the information in the morning papers is as accurate as possible, but also because decent behaviour dictates that one doesn't tell the jockey whom one has engaged that one is disengaging him/her because a supposedly better jockey has become available.

If racing were a game played only by people who put doing the right thing first, then there would be no need to legislate on this subject.  However, yesterday reminded us that that that is not always the case, so it's simple: the jockey who is declared to ride the horse rides him, unless he/she cannot do so because of injury/illness/traffic problems/inability to do the weight.  I know that there is an argument that if one has retained a jockey, one should be allowed to move him/her around (an argument which, of course, would not have applied yesterday) but, really, that shouldn't hold water: would it really be the end of the world if the second jockey, or whomever else one has booked to ride the horses, rode him?  After all, the fact that one has booked him/her shows that one is happy to have him/her on board.

I'm surprised that the BHA allow this to happen, and I'm surprised that the PJA are happy to have the rules allow this.  In general, the rules which allow these changes help far fewer jockeys than they harm: when these things happen, it is nearly always one of the handful of popular jockeys who benefits, while overall the victims include pretty much everyone else.  Obviously the jockeys who lose out individually tend to lose less (and the total loss is exactly the same as the total gain) but there are more of them; and they are in general the ones whose need is greater.


neil kearns said...

Couldn't agree more with regard to the jockey change rules or lack of them my view should,t be allowed period even in the retained jockey situation other than on the times named in your piece
As regards the race distances whilst I agree that all short races makes for boredom why not just go greyhound racing instead if you want tedium I also believe racecourses should have the freedom to frame there own meetings with no restrictions including when and how often they want to race '- so am in a bit of a quandary as this is a recipe for chaos
So we have to have rules unfortunately because I feel that if courses had total freedom to frame races some new and inventive things would come out

Brian Jones said...

Lovely to see Gift of Silence win at Haydock today, the young lad rode very well.

John Berry said...

Yes, wasn't it, Brian. Jordan is clearly very, very good. She really has to be settled behind horses as she's too keen otherwise and wears herself out, and not many 16-year-olds would have been good enough to do what he did. John Llewellyn rang me shortly after the race to say who pleased they all were, and it was lovely to have been involved in such a happy occasion.