Monday, December 28, 2015

Problem solved

Well, running Zarosa at Huntingdon on Boxing Day wasn't my brightest idea.  It wasn't a race which I'd usually have picked (for any horse) in a month of Sundays, but after our misfired attempt to run her at Fakenham six days previously I just wanted to get her out when we could, as it's still early days for her as a hurdler, she was ready to run, and needed the experience.  As it turned out, it wasn't a great experience for her, even if it probably was good experience.  She jumped worse than she had done on her debut (when she had jumped very well).  I think that the cause was nothing more sinister than that, approaching the first hurdle at the back of a 16-runner field, she found herself jumping a hurdle 'blind' for the first time, and rather lost her confidence.  She jumped the next two stickily too, and ultimately was pulled up before the home straight.  Still, no real harm done - and as she cantered back in her own time, she did so alongside John Ferguson's horse, so she was keeping good company.

I only very rarely run horses at Huntingdon, despite its convenience for us, and I'd imagine that it will be another few years before we have another runner there.  Still, it is handy - and never more so than on Boxing Day, witness the fact that we watched both the Christmas Hurdle and the King George VI Chase at home: we ran in the 12.45 at Huntingdon, and were home by 2.30.  Getting home in daylight in the winter is a real treat.  So that brings us nicely on to the King George, as I feel that I ought to touch on it.  It was a wonderful race with a lovely result, but at the same time it was a very unsatisfactory race with a very unsatisfactory result.

I don't really have any views on the use of the whip.  It isn't an issue at all as far as welfare goes, and if you don't like the way a jockey rides, then you don't use him.  That's it really.  I don't actually know what the whip rules are, and have no interest in finding out: they don't apply to trainers, so I don't need to know them.  The majority of times when I've watched a race and hear afterwards that one of the jockeys has received a whip ban, it's usually the case that I've watched the race without having been aware that any offence was being committed.  But what does concern me is whip rules (or, as a general principle of law-making, any rules) which aren't enforced: as soon as one writes whip rules, one is giving a message to the general public that the whip has been misused any time that the rules have been broken.  So continually to allow this message to be given is very irresponsible.  If we are going to do that (and it seems that we are) then we would be better just not to have any whip rules, because then they can't be broken.

Why this has come up now is that the King George was a rare occasion when I think that the winner would not have won had the jockey abided by the rules - and it was also a rare occasion when I watched a race and felt that the whip was not being used correctly.  (Although what disappointed me was probably not the reason for the bans which both jockeys received: I was disappointed to see them both ride into the last fence with only one hand on the reins).  Anyway, the stewards obviously felt that something was wrong, witness Paddy Brennan receiving an 11-day ban and a £4,200 fine, and Ruby Walsh receiving a two-day ban.  The former's punishment clearly suggested that he had broken the rules to a major degree - and my reading of the race (during the bulk of which he had ridden superbly) was that Cue Card would not have won had Paddy used his whip more sparingly.  Under the circumstances, it makes no sense at all that the horse was allowed to keep the race, both from the point of view of fairness and from the point of view of sending the wrong message to the man on the Clapham omnibus, ie telling him two things, namely that (a) the whip was misused and (b) it doesn't really matter.  If we are going to tell him that it doesn't really matter, then we would be better not to have brought the matter up in the first place.

Anyway, disqualification obviously presents major problems.  Firstly it would really piss punters off, and secondly it opens the door to potential integrity breaches.  At present, there are only two ways in which a jockey can guarantee that his mount won't win: throwing himself off and 'forgetting' to weigh in.  Both are problematic.  Throwing oneself off a galloping horse is very hard to do (and even harder to do without it being obvious that one has done it deliberately) while forgetting to weigh in can be very difficult if the trainer walks back into the weighing room with you to make sure that you don't forget. But if breaking the whip rules carries automatic disqualification - well, that makes guaranteeing that a horse won't win a piece of cake: all one would have to do would be something which I haven't been able to do but which I assume all jockeys have already done (ie learn what the whip rules actually say), and then break them.

So disqualification is tricky.  So here's the solution.  If a jockey breaks the whip rules, then his mount is not disqualified, but the prize money (to owner, trainer, jockey and stable staff) is withheld.  The horse is still the winner of the race, the trophy is still presented to and kept by his owner, and punters who have backed him get paid - but the prize money is not paid.  Instead, the prize money is given to the first horse across the line whose jockey hasn't broken the whip rules (or could be divided equally among every horse in the race whose jockey did not break the rules).  At present, the more valuable race, the less significant the deterrent to breaking the rules; under 'my' system, the more valuable race, the more significant the deterrent to breaking them.  You can guarantee under this plan that any jockey unwilling to ride within the rules would receive fairly short shrift from the owners, trainers and staff whose horses he/she rides.

I really can't see a downside - particularly with the prize money instead going to the teams who had obeyed the rules, because that would once in while produce a nice bonus for abiding by the rules, and would take away the grievance of having lost out financially because one's jockey had kept within the rules while another had transgressed.  There's no better way of ensuring that the rules are adhered to than making sure that owners and trainers insist that they aren't broken on their horses - and this would be the best way of bringing that about.  (And, by the way, please don't trot out the old chestnut of it being unfair for connections to suffer for their jockey's mistake - that's just a fact of life, an everyday occurrence already.  It's a given that when one is training and racing horses one receives the benefit and credit for one's employees - including one's jockeys - doing the job well, and one suffers for one's employees' mistakes.  That happens all the time anyway, both within the races and in the preparation for them).

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

ending the year with another brilliant analysis of one of racing's bigger issues
whilst accepting all your arguments my gut instinct would still be to throw the horse out of its finishing position as you correctly argue in this particularly case the winner would not have won without breaking the rules and therefore the interest of the punters backing th e second have not been correctly served - had interference taken place which equally affected the result one would hope (though doubt would happen - St Leger weekend fiasco here and in Ireland !!) the one causing the issue would be thrown out
Frankly in my opinion the interest of those of us having a bet are totally subservient to those of the owners and as such there is no way that the owners of the placed horses have been treated correctly by the Kempton stewards though I equally accept that with the current rules they had little choice
as they say rules are rules and I do not understand why the whip rules do not like other infringements allow for the disqualification of the horse as you correctly point out the runner is part of a far bigger team and if other parts of the equation are at fault - say carrying the wrong weight for example- all lose out
your point about the opportunity for jockeys deliberately lose is your most valid however since there are still a small number of persons who have contrived numerous ways to deliberately lose - some of which you highlight - you will never stop this and ultimately the sanctions against those persons must always reflect the heinous acts committed

anyway Happy New Year to all at the yard - and Happy Birthday to the horse