Morning After The Day Before

After deciding not to go to Leopardstown yesterday I had the relatively simple choice of going to either Newbury or Warwick instead.

In the end I plumped for Warwick, simply on the basis with Newbury being such a big meeting all the great and good of racing journalism would be there and the press room would be full to bursting.

Whereas at Warwick it was a near deserted press room with three of us there, plus Stewart Machin popping in between races.

As I write this the morning after the nightmare events in the Newbury parade ring I am pleased I made the decision to go to Warwick. Yes, part of me thinks it would have been a good professional challenge reporting from the scene of a breaking news story but being close to a story can cloud ones judgement.

One aspect that particularly struck me is the incident occurred pretty close to where I do my paddock observations at Newbury.  So there is a strong chance, had I been there, I would have witnessed the incident first hand.

Would that have been a good thing? Clearly from a purely emotional aspect it certainly would not, how could anybody witness such an event first hand and not be impacted?

Moreover I think having witnessed such an event first hand would make reporting on what happened all the more difficult. Yes, it would have been possible to report what happened from an involved perspective but that would also make looking at the wider picture much more difficult as there would have been too much emotional baggage attached and I know I would have struggled to be objective.

That is why I have greatest admiration for the broadcasters who were able to report on such a horrifying incident so well. They provided understanding and informative coverage striking a great balance conveying the tragedy of what happened, without over sensationalising events.

Particular praise should go in the direction of Nick Luck who, once again, showed what an excellent broadcaster he is – dare I say it was his finest hour.

Mention should also be given to the BBC’s Cornelius Lysaght. I know I have been a strong critic of some of Five Lives racing coverage but, credit where credit is due, Lysaght’s description of the events he witnessed in the parade ring was radio reporting at its very best, you almost felt you were there and the tone was spot on. 

Investigations are still on-going and whilst all the known evidence so far points to an underground electrical cable it would not be constructive or helpful to speculate further. Enquiries are still  on-going both within and outside racing and in due course I have no doubt all will become clear.

Lessons will clearly be learned but I believe it will transpire this was a terrible freak accident.

Unbelievably, although sadly not unsurprisingly, I have seen suggestions online that the incident was no accident but a case of deliberate sabotage . . . . you really do wonder if inmates in the asylums should be allowed internet access?

I do have three points to look at further concerning yesterdays events.

Should the first race have gone ahead?

On the whole I believe those responsible handled this unique situation as well as they could in the circumstances, the one exception being running the first race.

As we now know the decision was taken to run the first race, albeit 20 minutes late. This happening after one trainer, Nicky Henderson, went to the start and decided to withdraw his runner, Kid Cassidy, who had been affected by events in the parade ring.

There was clearly confusion as to what had happened in the parade ring and the first race not have taken place until it was clear what had happened.

In an interview stipendiary steward Paul Barton, speaking about the decision to run the first race, said, "They were extremely unusual circumstances. We were reacting to things as they occurred at the time - we didn't know if the horses had had heart attacks or what had happened.”

The final part of the statement is the most pertinent “we didn't know if the horses had had heart attacks or what had happened

They did not know what had happened - in which case the decision to race was crass.

What would have happened if either Kid Cassidy or The Merry Giant (another horse involved in the parade ring and reported by connections to be “badly traumatised” after the race) had collapsed during or after the race?

Barton also said, “…..after the race, as we got more information, the decision-making process changed."

Doesn’t common sense dictate that if you do not have the information then you err on the side of caution?

There were suggestions regarding a possible electrical cause before the first race was run, that must have rung alarm bells.

Barton added, "The horses were examined by the veterinary surgeons before the race,”  but my understanding was this was only a heart rate check. How thorough were the examinations?

The bottom line is they did not know what killed the two horses in the parade ring, nor what led to two other horses to stumble, yet the race was allowed to proceed.

The decision to run the first race was, at best, crass bad judgement, indeed I would go as far as to suggest negligent as it raises serious horse welfare issues.

Undoubtedly the BHA will enquire into the circumstances, however I also believe an external enquiry is also required and I trust this is a matter which will be investigated by the RSPCA.

Were broadcasters right to show footage of the incident?

Another topic which set the message boards and Twitterland alight.

For me this is a simple issue, what happened at Newbury was a breaking news story, with relevance to a wider audience. The pictures put the incident into a wider contest and clearly illustrated what happened.

I have no doubt the audience figures will show people will have switched to Channel 4 Racing as the afternoon progressed and word spread, hence the need to show the incident on more than one occasion.

It was not a pretty sight, it looked horrible but that is what happened, it cannot be ignored.

Should broadcasters not show news coverage for fear it may offend somebody? If that were the case the only pictures we would probably see in news bulletins would be of sheep frolicking in fields – then again even that may well offend somebody.

News is reporting of what happens in the real world, it should not be sanitised.

Are those complaining about the pictures being shown also saying broadcasters should not have shown pictures of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, or show film of JFK being assassinated?

I would suggest the planes hitting the Twin Towers is far more distressing than what happened yesterday.

Some complained the incident was shown repeatedly and they found it upsetting – my question to them would be, if you find it so distressing then why were you watching it repeatedly?

You will find your television has an off or channel change switch.

Are there double standards with some of the reporting?

Some final thoughts to ponder - which I make without comment.

Two horses died at Newbury in unusual circumstances and it becomes a major news story not only within racing but on the wider news agenda. It even made news bulletins overseas as well.

Also yesterday afternoon, two horses died at Warwick and at least two died at Leopardstown.

Are the losses at Newbury any greater than the losses at Warwick and Leopardstown?

Shouldn’t the same amount of passion and column inches be dedicated to the deaths of the other four horses?    

Are deaths in-running just an accepted part of our sport?

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