I’m sorry to try my reader(s) patience, but I can’t let yesterday’s Grand Sefton Handicap Chase pass without a further, brief minimalist fugue on that most tedious subject of the moment.
For those of you who missed this epic duel from the last, Aidan Coleman on Stewarts House (11-2) just held Paul Carberry on Linnel (7-2) at bay by a neck. Unfortunately Coleman broke the new whip rule in the process, administering 11 strokes (three more than the eight allowed) for which offence he was banned from riding for seven days and had his portion of the prize money confiscated. The ban will probably mean he loses about 30 rides and associated fees, in addition to his 5.85% share of the prize money (just over £1800).
Let’s take a closer look at what Coleman actually did. Before the last fence he kept the horse up to his work with hands and heels, plus a handful of the new “rein-taps” from the stick with his left hand still on the reins. Only after jumping the fence, when Stewarts House started to lean onto Linnel, did he administer four left-handed strokes to stop his horse hanging into his rival and causing interference. Once his horse reached the elbow and was clear, the jockey pulled the whip through to his right hand, giving the horse another seven smacks in rhythm to keep it going straight without wandering off the rails and into his rival’s path. From the elbow to the line Linnel too received seven smacks, after which both jockeys put their whips down some yards before the finish.
I do not know what Coleman said to the Stewards, but I am surprised that they did not take the safety aspect of those first four strokes into account. Nor have any of the self-appointed couch judges who’ve taken it upon themselves to criticise his ride mentioned the fact that what Coleman was doing was making sure that his horse did not impede his rival. He was, in essence, playing fair to Carberry and Linnel in a sportsmanlike way.
Yet if he’d allowed Stewart House to hang into Linnel, would he have lost his prize money or been banned from riding for seven days? At most he’d have received a rap on the knuckles and a couple of days “holiday”, without any further penalty – and without being in receipt of yet another sanctimonious chorus of “he knew the rules” from the usual suspects. Was this equitable? Was it just? Did the “punishment fit the crime”? Did it make any sense whatsoever?
Peter Scudamore, who was very much in favour of the new rules (“Tough but not tough enough”) foresaw exactly what would happen in practise, especially in such prestigious and valuable races as the Grand Sefton. Here’s what he said on September 27th in The Daily Mail:
“The new regulations could see repeat offenders among the jockey ranks banned for 20, 30 or more days. They could also have to face the Disciplinary Committee with their licences to ride at stake.
But ultimately, they answer to their employers – the owners and trainers – and I have still to be convinced, when the chips are down, that that responsibility and the hope of future employment won’t outweigh the new rules.
That means more breaches. I hope I’m wrong but that scenario would mean the positive effect of these new stiffer changes will be undermined and keep the use of the whip under scrutiny.”
He’s right of course. The new rule is unworkable, because it is based on random stroke counts which will always be exceeded when push comes to shove, where jockeys are faced with a choice between a BHA ban and doing their best to win the race for their current and (hopefully) future employers.
Yesterday’s disgraceful and utterly depressing downer does Racing no credit at all, and will do its public reputation nothing but harm. It provides fodder for its fundamentalist Animal Welfare opponents and bitter cud for its true supporters.
Jamie Stier, chief architect of the whip rules fiasco, was reported (by the admirable Chris Cook of The Guardian) as having had the cheek to greet Coleman with a heartfelt “What are you doing to me?” as he returned to the weighing room.
Mr Stier, I’ll tell you what he’s doing. He’s a professional jockey who yesterday did a great job in winning a race whilst using his whip to chart a true, fair and sportsmanlike course. For that, you have sequestered £1800 from him, and taken away his right to ride for seven key days of the season. The question isn’t what he’s doing to you, but what you are doing to him.