Back in September last year I wrote, following the announcement of Paul Bittar’s appointment:-
“Whilst I wish Bittar well in his new role, he is walking into an impossible job and he is taking on a poisoned chalice.”
It seems the first sip he has taken from the chalice contains hemlock and yesterday’s announcement regarding a near total capitulation to the whip rule changes is another nail in the coffin of British racing.
What I find particularly nauseating is the “I told you so” attitude and rejoicing of those who opposed the changes, they seem to think “common sense” has prevailed and they have won some kind of magnificent victory.
Rejoicing at yesterday’s decision is incredibly myopic and fails to take into consideration the long term impact of the decision.
In terms of the whip issues themselves.
The jockeys had asked for more clarification as to what would be an acceptable use of the whip, the new rules provided that to a certain extent, although there was always scope for some adjustment.
The reality is, what the jockeys did not want were the much overdue effective punishments for breaking the whip rules, they wanted it both ways. Let’s face it, asking jockeys to support stronger penalties for whip breaches is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.
So it was no great surprise that the riders were up in arms when, finally, there were strong punishments introduced for what is effectively cheating.
There was an outcry last week when AP McCoy was banned for excessive whip use when getting Prince Of Pirates up to dead-heat with Brackloon High at Leicester.
Many complained that it was wrong to ban the champion jockey for such a ride. Why?
McCoy broke the rules, as a result of his breaking the rules his horse managed to dead-heat when, in all probability it would have finished second.
“Ah, but the rules are flawed”, is the response of the apologists - It doesn’t matter if the rules are right or wrong, those are the rules which are in place. We cannot pick and choose which rules and laws we choose to follow.
I happen to think the 50mph limit on the A34 through Oxford is pointless and stupid, but if I get caught exceeding that speed limit I somehow think my saying “but I don’t think the limit is right” would hold much sway with the powers that be – and rightly so.
So are those saying McCoy should not have been punished also suggesting that it is perfectly acceptable to win at all costs and escape with impunity?
Are they saying McCoy is a multiple champion jockey and he should not be treated so badly? That argument could well be turned round to say as multiple champion jockey McCoy should know better and should, therefore, be treated more harshly.
Then what about connections of Brackloon High, whose jockey remained within the rules but they still had to forfeit outright first place.
If racing wants to endorse a win at all costs, do what you want with just a slapped wrist policy then I want nothing more to do with the sport.
So what about these new changes?
Well for a start they are not going to bring any clarity to the situation and by handing the decision making back to local stewards we will see a return to inconsistency and even more ambiguity.
I wonder how long it will be before supporters of yesterday’s changes will be on their high horses again when the stewards begin making inconsistent decision – I would wager not very long at all.
Will I then be allowed to call them hypocrites?
Such a proposal could only work if we have centralised professional stewards.
Stewarding needs a root
and branch change if there is to be any prospect of these new changes
The current system of Stewarding does not work and whilst the introduction of Stipes has partly improved the situation, it has also introduced some additional problems.
The quality of the Stipes is far too variable, whilst some are exceptionally good there are one or two who are simply on an ego / power trip.
There would still need to be an on-course Stewarding presence to deal with day-to-day matters as they arise but all disciplinary matters should be dealt with by the central panel. Then the proposed changes may possibly work.
The technology is available and it isn’t rocket science.
One thing is for sure, yesterday’s announcement will do absolutely nothing to bring an end to the whip debate and anybody who thinks it will do is living in cloud cuckoo land.
The decision plays into the hands of those who want to see a total whip ban, even those who want to see the abolition of horse racing period.
However the ramifications of yesterdays decisions goes far beyond the whip debate. It deals a serious, if not fatal blow to the credibility of the administration of the sport in this country.
Even before the whip changes were announced and implemented the BHA had a major credibility issue, the events of the past four months have only served to further undermine their credibility and authority.
If the BHA is to regain any credibility it needs a major overhaul, however even that may not be enough.
Paul Bittar needs to launch an immediate, independent, enquiry into the implementation of the new whip rules. Whatever ones opinion of the rule changes themselves I think it is universally accepted that the timing and method of their introduction was crass.
So far Paul Struthers seems to have been made the scapegoat but that was a case of shooting the messenger, those truly culpable have escaped with impunity. Isn’t there also an irony that the BHA’s sacrificial lamb then went across to the “other side” and came away with what looks like a victory for the jockeys.
In his infamous interview with Nick Luck on Champions Day the BHA Chairman, Paul Roy, said that as Chairman of the BHA he must assume responsibility for the implementation of the whip rules. After yesterday’s embarrassing capitulation can we expect his resignation today – of course not the man has no honour.
My fear is no amount of tinkering will dig the BHA out of the hole in which it finds itself.
The whip fiasco has been a distraction but it is but a mere gnat bite compared with some of the other issues the sport is facing.
The biggest issue is the future funding of the sport and, at the risk of repeating myself, the industry and, more specifically, the BHA does not have the ability or wherewithal to negotiate a proper commercial funding model for the industry.
At a time when racing needs strong leadership the BHA has shown itself to be impotent. Yesterday’s capitulation is not something to rejoice about. All it does is underline the lack of direction and leadership in a so called authority that is supposed to run the sport.
Paul Bittar is being lauded as a pragmatic leader, in my eyes he has rolled over and completely kow-towed to the PJA, his credibility is as much in question as the rest of the BHA board.
Whilst I am no fan of the bookmaking industry I can only assume they are absolutely wetting themselves with laughter when they look at the absolute mess in the higher echelons of UK racing.
After all are they not the ones who really run the sport?