Friday, April 15, 2016

We're all a bunch of ****s, if you believe the Racing Post

Well, wasn't that a wonderful Grand National.  I was particularly pleased to see the vicar from 'Grantchester' ride the winner, and to see Sulamani become arguably the first stallion to sire both a British Classic winner (Mastery) and a Grand National winner.  The Teddy horse Brumeux sired Borealis (runner-up in the 1944 wartime St Leger) and Early Mist (winner of the 1953 Grand National) but I haven't been able to find one prior to Sulamani to get a winner in both races.  Sulamani (pictured here at Haras du Logis in 2009) was one of my all-time favourite racehorses, as genuine a horse as one would ever see who never stopped trying despite the fact that he always looked to me as if he was crying out for some treatment from a chiropractor, so I'm delighted to see him post this remarkable achievement.

That was last weekend, and of course this weekend we have shocking weather (bucketfuls of rain the past couple of days - don't be fooled by the blue sky in these pictures - and snow forecast tomorrow, not just for Scotland but plenty of areas of England too) and the consequently rescheduled Greenham Meeting.  The BHA has done well to move this meeting at very short notice and, while it isn't ideal, getting it to take place at Chelmsford is the least unsatisfactory of all the potential options.  If one had postponed it one would have had more choice about where to run it, but as the two main races are Guineas trials and we're only two weeks away from the Guineas, postponing wouldn't have worked.  So Chelmsford it is, and the horses will be racing on a much better surface than the quagmire they'd have been on if by some miracle Newbury (Going Stick reading 3.8 and getting ever lower) had got the go-ahead.  And what is particularly nice is that my experience is that Chelmsford has a great team of staff who take real pride in the racecourse which they serve, and it will mean a hell of a lot to them all to be staging three Group races.

So that's good.  What's less good was a desperately poor article in the Racing Post yesterday.  The winner of the Martin Wills prize for racing-related articles written by people aged under 25 is a terribly poor piece written by a lad called Chris Humpleby who, apparently, works for Roger Varian.  In this masterpiece he muses about the popularity of cocaine in Newmarket.  The whole thing is just terribly poor, a rant which makes no attempt whatsoever to investigate or analyse its subject.  The whole article is, apparently, going to appear in Sunday's Racing Post, but the Post gave us a sneak preview of it yesterday, picking out and passing on the more sensationalist aspects in an unquestioning manner of which the News of the World would have been proud.

Anyway, I've read the complete article on-line, and I now feel that I've been sort of filled in about "the murky undercurrent of vice that is unmistakable to all of us who live here."  I can only guess that the articles which didn't win the prize can't have been very good, because this is just risible.  I have to admit that (a) I'm the Mayor of Newmarket, so tend to be defensive when people make sweeping criticisms of the town without producing any analysis to back them up, and (b) I'm quite pedantic, and one of my bugbears is people using the word 'sat' when they mean either 'seated' or 'sitting'.  But there's no harm in expecting our language to be used correctly by people bold enough to enter their work for writing competitions.

Anyway, "if gambling is the thrill, and the drink is the fun, then the cocaine is the fuel, because there are not many toilet cisterns in Newmarket that have failed to resemble the sleek slopes of Mont Blanc on a Saturday evening.  Charlie is not merely the name of the stable cat."  This is just drivel, and it's disappointing that the Post could relay it as a news story while making no more attempt to investigate the subject (ie the Post made none) than the author of the article had done.  This is just so poor - but if I'm unimpressed by it, I hate to think what Roger makes of it.

The picture of the staff which it paints bears no relation to the personnel in this stable whatsoever, so the obvious inference from the depiction that the staff are a load of junkies and the trainer couldn't give a s**t ("trainers could take more responsiblity for providing their staff with opportunities beyond the saddle and the pitchfork.  Lunchtimes are long in racing, and it would not take much to offer lessons, advice and opportunity to see beyond the confines of the yard before the afternoon snooze kicks in") is that this is Chris Humpleby's experience of things as seen from the stable in which he works.  This is just so unfair on Roger, a thoroughly decent person who has excellent staff most of whom I know well, like and respect.  (And I can't comment on Chris Humpleby because I don't think that he rides out, so he doesn't appear on my radar when I pass the time of day with his colleagues every morning).

Anyway, I can't see that the author can be commenting on any trainer other than his own employer, because I can't see that he's in a position to make any comment on any other trainers, as he won't have had the opportunity to observe them closely enough.  For instance, he can have no idea about what contact I have or don't have with any of the many people and organisations in this town who are dedicated to the welfare of the young and vulnerable people in the town, both within and without the racing fold.  He can have no idea whatsoever what, if any, input I have in the Racing Centre (formerly the Astley Club) which has re-invented itself under the leadership of Annika Broster to provide a home-from-home for the young employees in Racing, arguably going too far in turning itself into a social hub for racing's younger employees at the expense of their older counterparts who have been frequenting the Club for decades.

He can have no idea whatsoever about what I contact I do or don't have with Joe Carter, who does a tremendous job of spear-heading Racing Welfare's anti-drugs crusade within Newmarket; with Simon Bailey, the non-denominational Racing Chaplain who is continuing the excellent work formerly done by Graham Locking and who has steered many wayward souls away from trouble; with the Town Pastors led by Tony Hodge and John Borda who provide wonderful friendship and care to those preyed upon by alcoholic, narcotic and emotional problems as part of a pan-East Anglian project and who find that the problems here are no worse, and arguably less serious, than in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds.

Unbelievably, even though we know that drugs are a nationwide problem, the article, while stating that they are a massive problem, makes no attempt to compare the situation here with that in any other British town.  It makes no mention of Annika or the Racing Centre, of Simon Bailey or Joe Carter, of Tony Hodge, John Borda or the Town Pastors scheme.  That's just grossly insulting to these people and to the good work which they do.  Instead we find a few hundred words of rambling and unresearched drivel which does a massive disservice to the many people in Newmarket (including the employers of many of the staff) who are trying to ensure that the staff have a pleasant and safe life - and, worse, we find this rubbish being taken seriously by the Racing Post and presented as if it is a serious analysis of the state of play.  This is sensationalist tabloid nonsense at its very worst.


neil kearns said...

well your cage has been well and truly shaken and with total justification - the key point from your synopsis of the article is that the Racing Post should have conducted there own investigation to see if the facts back up the headline / story this is totally pathetic journalism on the part of the Post (truthfully no real surprise there)
In all of your roles I would be angry with this article and the lack of context that the paper has put around it - as you correctly say drugs are an issue everywhere and I would seriously doubt if Newmarket is any better or worse than similar size towns taking a trip to nearby Cambridge may open some eyes - it is obvious to anyone who reads your blog you have a genuine affection for the place you live but equally you are aware of its issues - I would demand the right of reply in your capacity as Town Mayor

On your other point I could not disagree more - yes the saving of the Newbury card is a good thing but to move it to an all weather track is completely and utterly unacceptable for the pattern races - it would have been just as easy to move the pattern races to either of the two tracks which were already flat racing on turf today (frankly the handicaps/maidens are of no importance in the great scheme of things as many similar races on abandoned jump cards over the winter are never re-run why bother about these)
In terms of the pattern races , the trials for other races they become irrelevant as the ground / performance does not translate from grass to all weather and from the point of view of future stud carrers / books etc the black type line will read won Greenham (which all will assume has been run at Newbury) and not have an addendum saying all weather race .

I understand the wish to save the three races (saving the whole card - why ?)but this was fundamentally the wrong way to go about it if you save them you have to run on the grass and whichever imbecile decided to transfer the whole card should hang their head in shame these races could easily have been run as the first three races at Nottingham (as this is a night meeting) and I am fairly sure in terms of travel times from Newbury to Chelmsford/Nottingham they are going to be very similar frankly this has to have been decided by committee because no one person could have come up with such an awful solution

neil kearns said...

just so as you know this was the rant i put on my own blog about the newbury issue earlier guess I was a little more het up when i wrote it

Ok some imbecile at racing HQ has decided to really **** me off I was looking forward to the 3 Newbury pattern races today but with the abandonment of the meeting had written them off - to see some dullard has decided to transfer the card to Chelmsford is beyond belief - the pattern was allegedly established to "enhance the breed" and some of the many excuses given in favour of diverting ridiculous sums of money towards these often ill supported races rather than to the big handicaps (or spreading the price money around all races to enhance their value) relates to the need to allow horses to acquire black type . All very noble whether you agree with it or not but to have stallion/broodmare value a horse should be able to act on all surfaces but whenever anybody proposes pattern races to be spread around the all weather circuit (particularly in the winter months) the collective negatives from the breeding industry drown out all other voices . Yet today someone has decided this no longer applies and we will move to Chelmsford (probably the worst of the all weather venues in my opinion) it could just as easily have gone to Wolverhampton who were racing anyway - BUT frankly there is no reason to move the maidens/handicaps nobody bothers when a big midwinter card is lost - and if you are going to move them to grass then why not add the 3 pattern races to the Nottingham or Thirsk cards - this is a really poor decision with NO thoughts as to the future

anyway rant over needless to say the relevance of those races to me is now null and void and as all weather form is entirely different to grass I am ignoring them

Lynn said...

I am so glad this is being talked about ...drug abuse, I went to the British racing school and went on to work for a number of trainers for a number of years including the wonderful late Mick Jarvis. I worked there when Roger Varian started and he was then a thoughtful and very decent young man. Drug use was a factor in very yard I. I never saw drugs actually in any yard but there was staff who used speed and cocaine in there own time. On a night out at Christmas time a large number of the girls were spending long periods of time in the toilets and they were nt fixing their make up. There is a drug problem in racing and it does not reflect badly on Roger Varian, nor his yard, drug use was a problem in racing 20 years ago when I started and probably before that. I had a racehorse in training in Ireland recently. When he was at pre training I had a chat with the pre trainer and complemented the really excellent staff he had in particular one lad. He said ' I worry about that lad sometimes'. I knew from talking to the lad that his pupils were dilated and suspected he was using drugs. I listened to all the concerns his boss had about this really talented young man. I told him what to look out for and how to assist him and that there are groups who can help etc. I left feeling sorry for the trainer who has on the one hand a responsibility to the other very young men who were working for him and this poor lad, who was struggling. This is not about any one trainer or one yard it about the racing industry the pressure to keep your weight down and the other pressures of racing, some of these lads are burning with ambitions that have not being fulfilled and they turn to drugs for many reasons. If you want staff who aren't using drugs it's very simple bring in random drug testing as part of their terms of employment. Racing is not the only industry to have this problem the mining industry and others have problems with alcoholism and drug use, the companies that were serious about it brought in regular random drug testing and breath testing.

neil kearns said...

Lynn raises a very valid point about the drug testing of employees - having looked into this when I was running a company it is not as straightforward as saying include in the terms of employment - apart from anything else the "established staff" will probably object very vociferously and even if they don't the actual testing has to be random and not focused on individuals or specific groups (eg young men) and then who should bear the cost ? I am fairly sure most employers would view it as society rather than their problem - whilst fully understandable the downside to this is that if others or property (horses) cause damage to third parties then the employer will be held responsible
I don't claim to know the answer but as an established (older)employee I would very definitely see red (DARK CRIMSON) had somebody suggested I should be drug tested because some younger persons were perceived to be using - and ultimately if the problem is rife then staff will always gravitate to the employer with the perceived more lenient outlook

John Berry said...

Re the moving of the races, Neil, I would imagine that putting the Pattern races on at those tracks would have been considered, but the tracks themselves would have to agree to do so. The problem is that putting on a valuable race is very expensive and, disappointingly, the sponsors who would have sponsored these races had they been at Newbury have not transferred their support to the new venue. It will have cost Chelmsford a lot of money to stage these races (they are lucky enough to have Betfred as a major share-holder, so that organisation has stepped in to sponsor the races). My guess is that they were the only track prepared to make this investment.

Re drugs, Lynn, I'm certainly not against drugs problems being highlighted, but I considered it grossly unfair to 'lift the lid', as the Racing Post put it, on the problem by portraying it as particularly a racing problem and a particularly Newmarket problem without even acknowledging the existence of the good work which a lot of people here are putting in to address the problem. Drugs are a worldwide problem, never mind a nationwide one, and they are right across the social spectrum. I don't know what the solution is, but I do know that the racing community in Newmarket probably takes its responsibility towards trying to steer its staff in the right direction more seriously than arguably any other sector of any other industry. If one is going to write an expose on the subject, one is morally obliged to investigate what work, if any, is being done to combat the problem - to gloss over that by saying little other than trainers don't take enough responsiblity is not good enough. Of course he's been unlucky (a) that he won the competition and (b) that the Racing Post has decided to sensationalise his points without, again, trying to put any level of balance into its piece. It wouldn't have been nearly so bad had the Racing Post put it across in another way.

Scott Doherty said...

I'm afraid drug culture isn't just confined to Newmarket. It's a problem across the whole country in all walks of life. The article paints the picture that it's only racing staff that take drugs which we all know won't be the case. I work up north and I have to admit I don't like Newmarket because of the drugs but like I say it's not just a racing problem. For the racing people that do take the drugs I think they are incredibly fortunate to have schemes run by organisations like racing welfare to try and tackle the problem. Not many other industry's have the support network like this industry does and it's unfortunate these people don't get the recognition they deserve

Andrew Pelis said...

Well said John.

The issue is one of balance. The issue of alcohol and drug abuse on an evening and the events that subsequently unfold, are not unknown to any city, town or village up and down the country. The article does not offer balance in the sense that Newmarket is addressing these issues and does not recognise that these issues manifest way beyond the small boundaries of horse racing.

I must admit I am not comfortable on Newmarket High Street on a Friday evening and I suspect not many elderly people would feel secure if out and about, but that is equally true of Norwich or anywhere else. I have struggled to find a unique link between racing and drugs and you are bang on the money to question what has been written.

It is appalling that Newmarket's many initiatives to address wider social issues has been neglected in the article, giving the sense of unbalance.

Lynn said...

There was a relatively high rate of staff turn over whilst I worked in racing and believe that it would not be difficult to issues new terms and conditions of employment to staff. My husband worked in the mining industry and a a new company took over operations and they did not lose one member of staff due to bringing in random testing. In relation to young males being singled out the female riders were using drugs also. I don't believe it's a gender issue. I work now as a solicitor in ireland and do criminal work, I also worked in the probation services in the UK, I have been involved in drug rehabilitation projects in England and Ireland and volunteered in drop in centres for alcoholics and drug users. I also was involved with the church in Newmarket and I fully commend everyone's efforts to bring change. In my experience drug use within racing and the choice of drugs is different to drug use outside of racing, drug use within racing is more focused on drugs that might be referred to as uppers, as they will assist with weight loss. I love Newmarket and return there frequently my point is it a problem within the racing industry as a whole. As regards who should pay for it, it is not actually that expensive in the first place and can I say as a racehorse owner, if I am paying thousands for my horse in training fees every year, along with entry fees, travel etc the farrier and vets fees and rehab fees when things go wrong. I will gladly pay another few hundred a year to ensure that the person who is riding my horse day to day, sometimes in traffic etc, is not risking their life and the life of my horse unnecessarily because they are riding whilst impaired. If I owned a very expensive formula one car I wouldn't want someone taking it out whilst impaired. Some of these horses have cost their owners a fortune and they know that they are entrusting that animal into the care of the trainer and the (often) young person who is riding it out on a daily basis and maybe there are other owners out there like me who would be happy to pay a little extra a year to make sure. I don't think stable lads should be sacked for drug use but they should be sent home until they can show they are drug free and directed to where there is support. In Newmarket as a town can I just say I have never felt unsafe, my daughter considers newmarket to be "a horse heaven" and laments we don't live there. It is a wonderful place as I said I believe it to be an issue within the racing industry as a whole. I recall going to work one morning a little hung over and being promptly kicked in the head by a horse, it was totally my fault if my reactions were not impaired I would not have been kicked. These animals are wonderful and safe when know what you are doing but when you are impaired the risk of loss of life, injury for the horse and for other humans goes up. It's not the same as showing up at the office impaired.

David Winter said...

Firstly, it's really inspiring that we all care ! And it's caused a debate. Not a bad thing and just possibly a reason for the provoking article.
As for the winning prose, well it contains nothing that isn't happening in towns across the world. I have family in Newmarket and love the place and feel as safe as in the High Street as anywhere.
So, that's all fine,but one valid point I took from the callow youths "exposure" is the unique ( well almost ) situation whereby young kids are boarded away from home and any parental guidance, thus increasing the possibility of being mislead and bullied and feel the need to conform. Life and human nature being what it is, it must surely happen. It really isn't reasonable to expect a trainer, however diligent and caring to observe and act as a parent would in these circumstances, especially in a large yard with forty or fifty employees drifting about and the pressures said trainer and senior staff are under to perform. Just another difficult life situation with no easy answers.