A Matter Of Perception

In this day and age of 24 hour rolling news and the all pervasive internet, perception can be as, if not more, important than substance, something which has been illustrated on more than one occasion in our sport this past week.

The two most striking illustrations, and no pun is intended, surround Jason Maguire’s whip use and the running of Saturday’s Eider Chase at Newcastle. Let’s look at the latter first.

One of the longest races in the calendar the Eider was run last Saturday in appalling conditions, the heavy going taking its toll on the runners with only, eventually, three horses finishing and all three finishers barely able to clamber over the final fence.

It did not look good, in fact it was very ugly and it was the sort of race which provides plenty of ammunition to those who wish to attack this sport of ours.

I am always ready and willing to fight racings corner but I have to confess even I struggle to ”justify” the sport when a race like this one takes place.

However just because a race looks ugly it does not mean we have to lurch into a knee-jerk reaction and begin making rash decisions which will ultimately be to the detriment of racing.

The bottom line is all the horses have come out of the race seemingly without any adverse effects, although this would only be finally confirmed after the runners have reappeared on course again.    

Questions were and rightly asked regarding Richie McGraths ride on Morgan Be, who was initially pulled-up  before the last, before being put back into the race to finish third.

Perhaps there should be consideration towards extending the no-remounting rule to also include not re-joining a race once a horse has been pulled up, although judging when a horse is pulled up is not black and white.

Comparisons have been made with Red Marauder’s Grand National win, as if that particular race was acceptable, it wasn’t it was equally as bad. The difference between 2001 and 2011 is the proliferation of the internet and the ability for people to comment openly. Whereas in 2001 most of the criticism was confined to the pub or the odd letter to the Editor, now we have instant opinion and reaction.   

Some are advocating reducing the distance of the long distance races, I do not hold with that argument. These extreme distance races do have a place in the racing calendar.

The only aspect I would question is should these marathon contests be allowed to be run in extreme conditions? I choose my wording carefully when I say extreme conditions.

Should there be a rule that races of four miles or more are not run if the going conditions are heavy?

Likewise should there not also be a rule that races longer than three miles are not run in the summer when temperatures exceed 25 degrees? 

In truth I do not know the answer. It truly is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

If changes are made, the sport is emasculated, it is seen to pander to the namby-pamby, politically correct brigade who would like to see us return to the puritanical days of Cromwell. A world where all risk is eliminated and life would be so grey and dull.

On the other hand we cannot ignore the fact we do live in a world where, rightly or wrongly and I would suggest the latter to be the case, perception is King.

Saturday’s race, shown on terrestrial television, was undeniably a poor advertisement for the sport and no matter how much we supporters drone on about it being a test of stamina and horsemanship, to the outside, casual observer it looked cruel.

As I have said this is a very difficult problem to address and one to which there is no correct answer.

Another controversy this week surrounds Jason Maguire and his use of the whip on Cool Mission at Doncaster on Wednesday. Basically he was banned for seven days for a) marking his horse when using the whip and b) using the whip with excessive frequency.

The seven day ban means he will miss the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and a potentially lucrative ride on Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle.  

There are some of my colleagues, whose views I normally respect, who say it is unfair Maguire is missing the opening day of the Festival. Indeed there are even those who question the fairness of the rule around horses being marked.

Yes some horses do mark more easily than others but if a horse is marked then it is also patently clear the marks are going to hurt.

If a horse is a known “marker” then it is the responsibility of the rider to show more restraint in their use of the whip.

The run of Cool Mission at Doncaster was the horses twelfth and it was the eighth time Maguire had ridden him, so it would be obvious if the horse was one that was easily marked.

Maguire has said, "It's a ridiculous rule and I don't agree with it. Nobody can tell if they are going to mark a horse before they actually do.” Rubbish – is he seriously saying that after riding the horse eight times he does not know if the horse will be marked or not?

If you have not already watched Maguire’s ride on Cool Mission then I suggest you visit the ATR web site and watch a replay. It was, to coin a phrase from earlier on, an ugly performance by Maguire. His use of the whip was heavy handed.

The bottom line is Maguire is a professional jockey, he broke the rules and has been punished accordingly.

The fact Maguire is missing the first day of the Festival is his fault and his alone, he was not forces to break the rules.

Invariably there will be complaints from the pocket talkers who have backed Peddlers Cross and Donald McCain has adopted the clichéd “my jockeys are being persecuted” approach.

Maguire is appealing against his ban. It will be a travesty if the ban is reduced, it will send out a message that allowing jockeys to ride in a big race is more important than the welfare of horses. Indeed I would actually be delighted if, after the appeal, Maguire’s ban is increased rather than decreased . . . . now that would send out the right message.

Why can’t Maguire hold up his hands, accept he is wrong and take his punishment like a man? He would ear far more respect if he took that course, instead he simply looks like a man desperate to ride in the Champion Hurdle at any price.

He is a young jockey, with great potential, who will have many more chances to ride in the   Champion Hurdle. He would be better served accepting his punishment and learning from it.

The build-up to the Cheltenham Festival seems to drag on longer and longer each year, to the point that even its most fanatical fans like myself tend get fed up.

For me there are two important dates which really tell me the Festival is here.

The first was the week before last when a padded envelope with a Cheltenham post mark dropped through my letterbox, containing my badge for the four days of the Festival.   

The second and for me the real starting gun is this Wednesday’s press conference at the course, where the weights are announced. This is the time we can seriously begin looking at all the races over the four days.

Bring it on. 

Do you agree or disagree? let us know

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