One story has dominated racing in the past few days and I don’t mean the greys race at Newmarket on Saturday. I refer, of course, to the four year ban handed down to trainer Howard Johnson by a BHA disciplinary panel.
I’m not going to go into all the details of what he did, or did not do here, they have been mulled over in great detail elsewhere.
It seems an eternity since the charges were first announced and it is unfortunate it took so long to finally reach a decision, a decision I think was absolutely correct.
The panel, who are independent of the BHA, have also done well in producing an excellent report explaining their reasoning for their decision and punishment.
I was hoping for a ban of around four to five years had he been found guilty, so I am not disappointed. Some have called for a lifetime ban and although I can see where they are coming from, I can also see why such a ban would not be viable.
As sure as night follows day if anybody in racing was given a life ban you can be certain they would be in the courts contesting the decision and it is highly probable the courts would deem such a ban draconian and unlawful and in breach of their “human rights”.
Johnson has made life easier for the authorities by announcing his retirement from the sport, however had he not done so he would, after the four year ban had ended, still have had to reapply for a trainers license and there is absolutely no certainty the licensing committee would have granted such an application. So an indirect life ban would still have been applied.
Turning back to this case I have to admit surprise at how weak Johnsons defence was, relying on the argument he was unaware of the rules in relation to the denerving operation and somewhat spuriously claiming the horses administered the steroids were not in training.
For a start, in any walk of life, not knowing the rules is no excuse whatsoever and it is negligent for a trainer, especially one with Johnsons experience, to use such ignorance as an excuse. When I began reporting on horse racing the first thing I did was obtain a copy of the rulebook (this was before it was online) and I read it cover to cover as well as always carrying it with me when I went racing.
In terms of the arguments about the horses not being in training when the steroids were administered, does that mean he was not taking training fees for the horses in question and that he was being charitable in housing the horses at his stables for free?
The role of his vets must also be open to question but as their actions are subject of an investigation by the RCVS it is inappropriate to make any further comment now.
It does beg the question as to whether there should be a more stringent licensing system for vets working in racing?
I know I have been highly critical of the BHA in the past but credit where credit is due in this instance where they have done well in prosecuting the case successfully.
A clear message has been sent out that where issues of animal welfare are concerned then no stone will be left unturned in dealing with the problem.
The world of racing is much better off without Howard Johnson in its ranks.
What I have found nauseating is some of the comments made after the verdict was announced.
Comments from Johnsons principal owner Graham Wylie have left a particularly nasty taste in the mouth, in that he seems to believe his trainer has done little wrong. Does that mean he condones what Johnson did? Was he aware or complicit in what Johnson was doing? If so, does that mean he is a fit and proper person to be a racehorse owner?
Loyalty to ones friends is commendable, blind loyalty is condemnable.
Johnsons reaction is he has been the victim of a witch hunt. The BHA have revealed the investigation came about as a result of a tip-off . . . . perhaps the person who tipped them off was an animal lover, concerned about the treatment of horses in his care?
I have never met Johnson but virtually all the comments I have heard about him, from those who have had dealings with him, suggest he is not the most likable person in the business and he has the ability to alienate people. Seeing the findings of the hearing and seeing his subsequent reaction I can see why people can reach that conclusion – the sport is well rid of him.
The only unanswered and worrying question is how many other of his horses may have been given a “pick me up” over the years?