Must Try Harder

It has not been a particularly good week for racing, with ice cream Gate at Salisbury, the farcical water situation at Worcester and the Nicky Henderson doping enquiry result.

Now we have whinging bookmakers, i.e. Coral, throwing their toys out of the pram complaining the publication of the Henderson verdict overshadowed their sponsorship of the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday.

First of all Simon Clare says, "Not only as the sponsor of the Eclipse, but also as an organisation which has been working really hard with other factions in racing in this re-branding exercise, it was gutting and galling to find that coverage on the day of what was arguably the biggest Flat race in Britain this year was decimated because of information disseminated by the governing body.

"We have got a great relationship with the BHA, and have already had conversations with them about it, and hard to believe though it may be, they do claim that under the current disciplinary system, because it is an independent judicial process, they cannot control the timing."

Then a Coral employee, James Knight, goes onto one of the leading racing forums and actually suggests the BHA should have deliberately delayed publication of the report until the Monday morning after the Eclipse.

What he is, in effect, saying is coverage of a race his organisation have so generously deemed to sponsor is far more important than publishing a report that is central to the integrity of the sport.

It is perhaps unfair to single out Coral for criticism, however the comments of both Clare and Knight underline the arrogance of bookmakers and their perceived self importance within the sport.

It doesn’t help we only have a single industry paper, the Racing Post, and the editorial team are very much in the pocket of the bookmakers and are very loath to criticise them unless they absolutely have to.

As one of the PR representatives of the big bookmakers once said, “the (Racing) Post need our advertising money to survive, they are not going to upset the apple cart.”

Even Paul Struthers the BHA Spokesman said, “We always try and avoid announcing these results ahead of big events.”

Surely announcing the findings of a hearing which involves the integrity of the sport is far more important than a “big event”.

If publishing the results of enquiries are considered less important than, say The Eclipse, what sort of message does this send out?

Are we seriously supposed to find it acceptable for the issuing of “bad news” to be buried or deferred, so not as to offend the sensibilities of the sponsor of a particular race?

As for Simon Clare’s crocodile tears, would he have made a similar utterance had Saturday’s race been the William Hill Eclipse?

I somehow suspect not, although I also suspect if that were the case then it would be David Hood making similar utterances.  

Now bookmakers, for better or worse, have an integral role in our sport, however contrary to what they may think they are not the be all and end all.

Their influence is disproportionate to their actual significance.

Their relationship with the authorities and large sectors of the media is far too cosy, one hopes the Gambling Commission will look at the cosy relationships that exist.

The findings of the Henderson case is very important for the industry. It needs to be discussed both in the racing and wider press.

The findings are also interesting and pose more questions than they answer. The implication is the mis-use of drugs is more widespread than is being admitted.

The role of the vet in this matter is also an area requiring greater investigation.

This is the perfect opportunity for the BHA to grab the nettle and be seen to be making a serious attempt to clean up the sport.

However I am not hopeful.

Jon Ryan, the BHA Director of Communications, speaking of the vets involvement, told the Racing Post, “There will not be a targeting of any yards where Mr Main is the vet.

"The proof in the Henderson case came as a result of a random test.

"Chasing possible skeletons in cupboards would not be beneficial - the proof required for a disciplinary hearing would not be there because you need a positive test to start proceedings."

What absolute rubbish. Yards should be visited at random, records checked and samples taken, if the tests prove negative fine. If they prove positive then the BHA have the evidence to start proceedings.

Comments like Ryan’s throw doubts on the seriousness of the BHA to address the issue head on.

How many more integrity hearings are we going to have to sit through before the BHA stop taking a namby pamby approach and address the issues head on?     



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