The Camel's Back Is Broken

3rd August 2013

Regular readers of my musings (I know there are at least two of you) will know I hinted at the end of last year that 2013 may be my final year covering racing.

I can now confirm 2013 will be my final year reporting on it.

I’ve been going racing for over 30 years and for the past six years I have been covering the sport full time, mainly for my web site but for other outlets as well.

It’s been a privilege to be able to cover the sport and 95% of those I have met whilst covering the sport have been really fantastic people, as for the other 5% I may write about them in a future article.

However I must admit I have fallen out of love with the sport. I had been teetering between carrying on and “retiring” but the decision has, effectively, been made for me in the past week.

It’s been a gradual falling out of love. Like a couple, once gloriously in love, who have been together for years, have become complacent with one another, found each other’s little habits and foibles increasingly annoying but they don’t have the inertia to walk away.

Racing never ceases to amaze me at its propensity to shoot itself in the foot – indeed racing must be an octopus as it has managed to shoot so many feet over the years.

Most memorable in recent years is the introduction of new whip rules and it was only the timely arrival of Paul Bittar which gave the BHA the “excuse” to backtrack – in the process their excellent head of PR, Paul Struthers, was made the sacrificial lamb.

The backtracking was a move that proved the A in the BHA to be pure fantasy.

Numerous disciplinary hearings have chipped away at the reputation of the sport, like a river slowly eroding the rocks to form a chasm.

Each one, in its own right, not earth shattering but cumulatively eroding at the fundamental trust of the sport.

More cases are being acted upon by the racing authorities but how many go undetected?

Integrity aside, for the moment, and racing still limps along with a wholly outdated funding model and despite Bittar being a qualified accountant no meaningful replacement for the Levy is on the table.

Whilst the income falls the bloated fixture list continues with more and more meetings becoming horse racing’s equivalent of BAGS racing – most of the meetings are even held on a similar artificial surface. We’ve all seen what has happened to Greyhound racing.

Like my earlier river analogy other “tiny” incidents have eroded away at my love for the sport.

We had the Dettori drug ban, which came as absolutely no surprise to the majority of those working in racing, yet it took the French Authorities to nail him, whilst the token testing this side of La Manche proved to be inadequate.

When Dettori returned to the saddle we had the nauseating sight of certain parts of the media lauding him as some kind of returning hero, the biggest offenders were Channel Four.

This is a user of an illegal drug being hailed as some sort of hero and don’t forget this wasn’t the first time he had been found in the company of “Charlie”.

Then we had the “Al Zarooni” steroid scandal. Remember the show trial where the whole matter, was discovered, prosecuted and punished with indecent haste – just the sort of justice that would be dispensed in an undemocratic tin-pot state like, for example, Dubai.      

Last week we were treated to a glimpse of the BHA whitewash, sorry report, into the whole affair.

“Whole” is quite appropriate as the “inquiry” has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the report.

  It strikes me as being inconceivable that a tightly run organisation like Godolphin would not have standard operating procedures across all its stables, therefore why would the control at Moulton Paddocks have been allowed to be so lax?
As the de-facto boss of the Goldolphin operation and Moulton Stables how is Simon Crisford's position still tenable?

So both Al Zarooni and the vet are supposedly in Dubai yet they cannot be contacted - sorry don't buy that one - if they are in Dubai and old Mo said so they would be immediately contactable.

Why are the BHA so afraid and in so much awe of Sheikh Mohammed - why is he seemingly unapproachable. No question mark there as it’s a rhetorical question as we all know the answer to that one.

In his statements after the affair first came to light Bittar was so far up Godolphins backside there was a worry he would never be seen again. The inclusion of Crisford at the post inquiry press conference sent out wholly the wrong signal and Bittar’s statements in the days after the hearing showed distinct bias.

 Why was Sheikh Mohammed’s lackey (Crisford) interviewed and not the main man himself? After all when all is going well the Sheikh is lauded as being the big hands on boss who takes all the credit, yet when the guano hits the fan he is somehow very detached – they cannot have it both ways.

It seems the BHA are prepared to accept the Al Zarooni version of events but it has already been shown there were inconsistencies in his evidence, in which case why should any of it be believed?


The only clear conclusion of this report is the confirmation the BHA have no "control" over this matter at all but the entire investigation has been driven and influenced by Godolphin and the retention of Godolphin’s investment is a bigger priority.

 You can almost imagine the correspondence


"Dear Holiness and beloved benefactor,


Here's the deal.

 We obviously can't say nothing at all, so we'll have a little moan about procedures at Moulton.

 We'll go on and make some airy fairy assumptions just to underscore the duplicity of that terrible chap / stooge Al Zarooni and then life can get back to normal.

"Some hacks, like that tiresome Greg Wood, will make a song and dance about it all but it will soon blow over.

"We hope that OK with you our Lord and Master, Mo the Almighty.

Sincerely
The BHA

aka your suppository "

 

Then, last week, a disciplinary hearing slipped through almost unnoticed, where trainer Mark Johnston was before the disciplinary panel for not keeping vaccination records updated – his fourth such offence in a year.

Yes, the same Mark Johnston who is a vet (you would think vets, of all people,  would keep up to date vaccination records) and, oh yes, sits on the BHA board – so a man who sits on the board of the regulator is seemingly happy to flout their rules.

How can someone remain on the board of a regulator when he has been found to repeatedly fail to follow the procedures of said regulator?

All seemingly small incidents on their own but there eventually comes a tipping point.

The BHA’s report has underscored where their true priorities lie, not in the integrity of the sport but in making sure they do not upset one of the sport’s biggest benefactors.

The BHA had the perfect opportunity to show they had grown some balls, instead they have demonstrated how impotent they are.  

It confirms who is in charge of the sport and it isn’t the BHA, although in fairness this has been known for some time, although some of us thought it was the bookmakers.

For me, though, this is the straw which breaks the camel’s back.

I have contractual commitments until the end of 2013 so coverage of racing will continue for the remainder of this year but I will not be applying for accreditation in 2014 and the live reporting on the website and Twitter will end after Warwick on 31st December.

I won’t turn my back on the sport completely, to use the earlier couple separation analogy again, I hope the parting will be amicable and we will still remain in touch.

I don’t, any longer, want the sport dominating my life as it has done for the past six years – it isn’t worthy of such devotion and there are far more important things in life.

I will still keep an eye on the sport and comment where I think appropriate.

Indeed it will be quite liberating, as I will feel less constrained being on the “outside”, indeed I may even feel emboldened to publish some articles I had previously “spiked”.

In contrast to the perceived wisdom “it’s better having someone on the inside pissing out,” it will be good to be on the outside, pissing in, as it were.   

I’ll still go racing occasionally, I’ll take out a couple of memberships.

I’ll still make my annual trip to glorious Cartmel.

It will be lovely to be able to watch the Fontwell chases in the centre of the course, like I used to before I had to follow the entire race.

It will be good to enjoy The Derby amongst the racegoers on The Hill, one of the most amazing experiences there is.

I’ll still pop across to Paris the first weekend in October for one of the best days racing there is in one of the world’s greatest cities.

I won’t miss battling the crowds at the Cheltenham Festival, driving 40,000 miles a year. I won’t miss having to defend the sport to those who think it cruel or bent.

I’m looking forward to 2014, as Edith Piaf said, “Non, je ne regrette rien.”

 

Postscript.

I wrote this article almost ten days ago but have not got round to putting it online due to an ongoing family illness and subsequent bereavement.

During that time I missed, amongst others Ascot’s King George meeting and Glorious Goodwood and, do you know what, I didn’t actually miss them – life just carried on.

I’m happy I’ve made the right decision.

 

 


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