One of racing’s pre-dominant challenges is to abolish the stereotype that the sport is an isolated community, solely for those initiated. Horse racing deserves respect, as its beauty is in its complexity. Although, as someone who is still learning about the game, I often find it hard to break through the barricade of secrecy many of racing’s dictators seem to endorse. If racing has nothing to hide, why are so many issues cloaked with secrecy?
The stewarding of British racing has long been a point of debate. Several high profiled incidents on the track come to mind, with Elusive Kate’s Falmouth Stakes victory in 2013 at the forefront of my vision. Alongside it lies the farcical aftermath to last year’s St Leger, with Simple Verse eventually recapturing the race eleven days later. Add in the ongoing Jim Best buffoonery, and you are left with little confidence in the sport.
I would argue racing succeeds when it is most transparent. On the 12th September 2015, this became clear. Following the aforementioned St Leger, Channel 4 Racing managed to secure extended air time and bring the cameras inside Doncaster’s stewarding room like never before. This access undoubtedly embellished a classic day on Town Moor and not only did it provide riveting entertainment for viewers, but perhaps most crucially, actually gave them an insight into what occurs when an enquiry is called. Why the BHA doesn’t assign more money towards broadcasting more high profiled enquiries, I don’t know.
How the rules of racing are applied will inevitably be scrutinised. In the 1:50 at Sandown on Friday this was exercised, as after the last fence Pilgrims Bay hung left and impeded Antarctica De Thaix. The former won the race by a head following the stewards enquiry, which once again caused people to question the fairness of our rules in the UK. There is no doubt the placings would have been reversed in plenty of other jurisdictions. This makes it increasingly difficult to correlate racing around the world. In what other sport is this level of international variance deemed acceptable?
The BHA’s website is a rich resource. But, after trawling through the rules of racing for a few hours, it is easy to become disillusioned. The reports and publications may as well be in a foreign dialect, and trying to correlate the two is not a task for the fainthearted.
Under the rules of racing, the stewards must reach a decision by simple majority. For the sport to operate under a lucid, reliable umbrella, why are we prohibited from knowing whether the outcome was unanimous or majority? I’m not necessarily saying racing should have more definitive rights and wrongs, but it would be in the interests of professionalism if we were able to see whether opinions were divided or not. Confidentiality is important, but in no way would it be infringed on if this were to happen, and it would serve more than a lifeless report.
In my opinion, centralised stewarding would be a monumental progression. In short, racing would be more evenly standardised, more consistent, and the rules and the consequences for breaking them, would appear clearer too. I would like to see a singular body of people to police general steward’s enquiries. Each member would be an accredited spokesperson with media training, and would be able to convey what happened, what they did and why they did it to the media. If this was the case, the sport would be in a much stronger position to defend itself.
Another questionable structure in racing is the BHA’s racing admin site. The comprehensive resource is only accessible to licensed individuals, and therefore they are able to see influential data before anyone else. I don’t understand why the site cannot be universally available to anyone who wishes to see it?
By granting “licensed” people exclusive access, the stereotype of racing being a fixed or closed entity is being perpetuated. Trainers, owners and jockeys all have their respective jobs, but in no way should their job role entitle them to see information before anyone else. If racing admin was accessible to everyone at once, the sport would be in safer hands, as the manipulation of entries, declarations and markets would be minimised. If I had access to exact entry requirements and race conditions for every race in the UK calendar, I would have a far superior grasp on the sport which I love, and fail to see how this would place anyone at a disadvantage. The delay in transmitting this information has unnecessary chain reactions, and frankly, it is a wonder something hasn’t been done about it as of yet.
Another of racing’s challenges is breaking down veterinary jargon. There is a very strong argument for the declaration of breathing operations, and as something which can have a bigger impact on performance than headgear or other declared equipment; it doesn’t make much sense to pervert the wider public. In addition, breathing operations do vary. For example, a hobday differs from a tie-back, and by educating more people on the immediacies and intricacies of racehorse welfare, the broader image of the sport is boosted.
In some cases, I believe it would also be beneficial for racing to broadcast more jockey to trainer and owner de-briefs on course. Many are indeed televised, and provide valuable insight, but more controversial instances should be directly addressed in the media. In theory, as an owner you are entitled to more personal treatment from your trainer, and indeed, more detailed information could be divulged off camera.
At Ascot on British Champions Day, staff employed by trainers Francois Rohaut, Hugo Palmer and James Fanshawe were found to be in possession of banned substances. The media coverage of this incident was minimal and the aftermath barely reported. At the moment, it appears racing refuses to scratch beneath the surface of these integral issues. This gives racing’s big names an air of invincibility as they are appearing to swerve the rules. By publicising issues of this nature in a more transparent light, media attention will swell and thus the sport will police itself.
Ultimately, in many aspects racing continues to dig itself into a deeper hole. There are too many blurred lines which creates a scary reality of misconduct. None of this reflects positively as an entire narrative. It is no wonder racing’s rulers are scrutinised so much. If, instead of accepting what we read with blind faith, we have more developed and coherent communications with those at the top of the tree, there would be no need to have racing under a constant microscope. With mystery comes a lack of trust, and if racing doesn’t become more transparent, it will find itself further detached.