Friday, February 26, 2016

It's how you play the game

Interesting article in the Racing Post today which rather summed up what I was trying to say a few weeks ago about how National Hunt racing has lost some of its appeal for me since it's gone down the dominated-by-the-big-battalions road which the Flat had previously taken - and that what probably puts my ears back a bit more than they should be is that we're still peddled the old 'we're sporting but the Flat people aren't' line which has started to wear a bit thin recently.  In essence, they're both wonderful sports full of wonderful people, but to try to spin the line that the Flat's lost the plot while the old sporting ethos dominates over jumps just won't work.

Anyway, this is what Tom Pennington had to say in today's paper: "What traditionally set jumps racing apart from its Flat counterpart was that a group of friends could club together and have a realistic chance of owning a horse of the highest calibre.  Everyone had a chance of competing at the top table - it did not cost the world to secure a horse with the potential to succeed.  Howevever, that appears to have changed.  Ante-post favourites for seven of the 14 Grade 1 races at next month's Cheltenham Festival are based in the yard of Willie Mullins in County Carlow and all bar two carry the now famous pink and green colours of Susannah Ricci, whose husband Rich made his fortune in the banking world.  Jumps racing has always had its fair share of well-heeled owners, but competition among a small clique desperate to secure festival bragging rights have (sic) driven prices for young horses with the best credentials to dizzy new heights."

On a semi-related subject, I'm getting a bit fed up with reading that Victoria Pendleton isn't up to it.  She may end up having a fall in the Foxhunters - but if she does, whose business is that?  It's hers, and it's the horse's connections' - but that's it.  How many fallers ('f's and 'ur's combined) will there be over the four days?  Fifty?  Is one more or fewer going to make any difference?  She's riding in the Foxhunters, a race for amateurs (and she won't be the only one of them who isn't particularly polished) and she epitomises the amateur spirit: she's full of enthusiasm, and clearly as brave as a lion.  If Pacha De Polder's connections wish her to ride the horse, and she wishes to take the ride, good on 'em.  That's what sport is about: it's not the winning, it's the taking part with enthusiasm, courage and the spirit of fair play.  And she's got all three of those coming out of her ears.  And, after all, the Cheltenham Festival is still meant to be sport, easy though it can be to forget that nowadays.

We've got plenty of entertainment to sit through before that, though.  Disciplinary enquiries are always quite fun (unless one happens to be on the mat oneself, as I was reminded at Towcester the other day) and we have a couple of interesting ones coming up.  The stewards of Racing NSW will soon be picking through the debacle caused by my former Winning Post colleague Richard Callendar, who was manager of a syndicate (and a 5% share-holder in the syndicate) which owned a horse called Lil Prior with Chris Waller.

Anyway, the deal was done to sell the horse for $200,000 to HK trainer Danny Shum - only Richard told his fellow owners that the figure was $140,000.  Glyn Schofield arranged the deal at the $200,000 figure and charged the standard agent's 5% commission (to both purchaser and vendor, which is a good wheeze).  So Danny Shum gave Glyn Schofield $210,000 (ie the $200,000 plus a 5% commission) and Glyn Schofield then gave Richard $190,000 (ie the $200,000 minus the 5% commission).  Of this $190,000, Richard gave $24,000 to Chris Waller's foreman Liam Prior for reasons unspecified, leaving a balance of $166,000.

Of this $166,000, Richard gave $129,405.20 to his fellow owners who collectively had owned 95% of Lil Caesar.  (The reason why this wasn't $133,000 - ie 95% of the $140,000 which they had been told was the sale-price) was that they were told that they were liable for the expenses involved in the transaction, including the pre-sale vetting (which would normally be paid for by the purchaser).  Anyway, it's going to be interesting to see what the Racing NSW stewards do with this.  It's hard to see that Glyn Schofield has done anything wrong other than breach the rule which says that a jockey needs to seek and gain permission from the stewards if he is going to earn money as a bloodstock agent.

There's nothing to say that Liam Prior has done anything wrong other than the general observation that under normal circumstances one is rarely given $24,000 for doing nothing; while - give him his due - Richard Callendar has at least made a clean breast of his misdemeanours and apparently has already now paid his former fellow-owners what they ought to have received in the first place.  What is particularly amusing, though, is his explanation for his transgression, ie that that's what all bloodstock agents do anyway.

In general, it is not a good idea to try to get oneself off the hook when one has been caught out by saying that, while one has indeed done it, that's OK because everyone else does it too.  Not only is this no excuse, but it also really pisses 'everyone else' off.  And as regards the poor people trying to sell the joys of ownership to the Australian public - well, it's bad enough for them to have one case come to light of a syndicate manager ripping his clients off, but then for the line to be put out that that is the norm rather than an aberration is all their worst nightmares come true.

So it'll be interesting to see how this one plays out - but probably not as interesting as the BHA's case on Thursday when the stewards investigate a couple of non-triers trained by Jim Best and ridden by his conditional jockey Paul John.  I haven't seen the film of these races, but it looks as if it's not going to work pretending that the horses were actually trying.  So, you've guessed it: Paul John is saying that he was instructed to get the horse well beaten, while Jim Best is claiming that Paul John is lying and that he rode against instructions.  Whom you or I might believe is by the by because we aren't adjudicating on this one - which is just as well, as it won't be much fun.

Anyway, I particularly enjoyed this gem by Greg Wood on the Grauniad's website today: "(Best's lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, said), 'I will make our position clear.  Mr Best says that Mr John has lied and will lie again'.  Best's team sought to introduce John's full BHA licensing and disciplinary record as evidence at the hearing, prompting a response from McPherson (BHA lawyer) that details of Best's full disciplinary record should also be considered.  Following consultation with Best, Laidlaw then withdrew the application for full disclosure of John's disciplinary history, only for the panel to decide that full disclosure of both Best and John's (that should be 'Best's and John's', but no matter) records would be appropriate."

This will be fun.  Oh yes, and don't forget that this is a sport.  Makes you proud to be British, and a trainer.

1 comment:

David Winter said...

I guess what is happening in both codes of racing is just reflective of the trends of 21st century life, sad though it might be. Generally there is a desire, nay need to be first, whether it be in business ( which I admit, is somewhat different.) or children's Sunday morning football. Where apparently, there is a real danger of a stabbing by or against over zealous fathers confronting each other over little Johnies tackle/offside or lack of Messi like skills.
In the current ( and probably) ongoing pressures of running a declining racing stable business ( and indeed, for the trainer it is a business!) the temptation to do a " Banker" (is that libellous ? ) must hang like a shroud above his/her head. In fact, it would only be human nature to veer toward the survival route when your governing bodies are impotent and in essence,seemingly disenfranchising you. Therefore it is little wonder that in recent past history we have had the alleged "pulling " problems, steroid abuse etc.
I would like to think that the majority of people want to do the right thing as a basic tenet but instead of taking the moral high ground, I try to put myself in thier shoes; wife and family to support, a rent or mortgage to pay on the stable, expensive transport and general overhead to meet,depleting and demanding owners (not all) and sharply reduced prize money, and wonder how far my moral discipline would be stretched. This is not to condone such machinations but to tread lightly on the condemnation pedal and be pleased for those of us who are not faced with such daily dilemmas.
By the way, who is Messi ?