Interfering on Interference

Tue, Jul 13, 2010

Betting News

There’s been a good deal of heat generated recently on the topic of jockeys getting suspensions for infringements of the rules on interference. Richard Hughes has taken a week off in order to avoid picking up further days prior to Goodwood. Trainer Richard Hannon has supported Hughes’ logic claiming that stewards are too ‘fierce’ and today trainer Mick Channon has written to the Post claiming that ‘in a few years time there won’t be riders like Richard Hughes because the art of race riding is being stifled.’  Hughes himself, when speaking to me on Get On last week, argued that jockeys are picking up bans for minor offences or even for accidental interference. Martin Dwyer, speaking with me yesterday, said things have been getting worse and went some way towards pointing the finger at professional stipendiary stewards. So, what’s the story?

Let’s start with the perceived ‘crisis’ here. Hughes, Channon, Hannon and Dwyer all indicate that things are somehow ‘getting worse’ , that stewards are dishing out more penalties than ever before. Their complaint is echoed by some sections of the media too but is it true? Kevin Darley, chief of the Professional Jockeys Association, conceded that ‘the amount of suspensions are about the same’. When I queried the numbers with the BHA I was given figures which showed no increase at all in penalties. Given the amount of racing, and the fact that much of it has taken place on lightning fast ground this summer, there is no clear trend here to support claims of a growing crisis. There is no problem.

This hasn’t stopped some pundits from demanding action though. John McCririck beseeches the BHA to ‘do something, for heaven’s sake’ to stem this imagined tide of bans, even though no such surge has happened. Others have claimed that the sport might be damaged by the absence of its top names at top meetings but what evidence is there to support such theories? How many top jockeys are missing from top meetings because of suspensions?

I interviewed George Baker on this topic this week and he commented that he was ‘lucky’ that he didn’t normally get many suspensions. I put it to Baker that this wasn’t ‘luck’ at all. His modesty, and his reluctance to criticise his weighing room colleagues, gave him pause before he reflected that ‘if you keep straight and don’t break the rules, you don’t get many days’. This ultimately is the point and it’s a point that is in danger of being missed in this manufactured furore.

Many top jockeys don’t have issues with the current rules because they don’t habitually break them. Richard Hughes is undoubtedly one of the most talented horsemen riding and is one of my personal favourite jockeys to watch but his stats indicate that it is him, not the system, that has issues.

Richard Hughes has clocked up an average 3.3 days of supsensions for interference for every 100 rides that he’s had in the last six months. Compare that with a tally of 1.96 for Ryan Moore, 1.75 for Kieren Fallon and just 0.68 for Frankie Dettori and it’s clear where the problem might lie.

Richard Hughes is commiting punishable riding offences under the rules of interference at a rate that is over one and a half times greater than that of champion Ryan Moore and nearly five times greater than the rate at which Frankie Dettori falls foul of the rules. In a debate that has so far avoided troubling itself with the facts that’s a pretty compelling set of numbers.

Another fact, conveniently overlooked by those who prefer to claim we face a crisis, is that the BHA has changed the totting up procedure to calculate total days over six months rather than twelve making it much harder (nearly impossible in fact) for any jockey to trigger a very lengthy ban under the revised totting up system.

The good news is that there is in fact no crisis on this front. It is simply not true that significantly more jockeys are picking up suspensions than before. There is also no evidence that our top jockeys are likely to be barred from the best meetings due to suspension on a regular basis. Indeed, under the new system it is much less likely that a big totting up ban will deprive riders of their livelihoods or punters of a chance to see and back their heroes.

The bad news, for some at least, is that they clearly have work to do in terms of improving certain aspects of their riding. This has been true of many great jockeys over the years who through being overly brave, or through struggling with whip use have had to adjust their styles to stay within the rules.

It is surely right though that the onus is on those individuals to fit in with the existing rules, rather than for the rules to be changed to accommodate that very small minority who fail to adhere to them.

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12 Responses to “Interfering on Interference”

  1. Tonk. Says:

    Sean,

    Good points and well made!!

    The real juxta position as far as I’m concerned, is that most, but not all, of our professional jockeys are not actually very skilled horsemen/women. Sure, they can do what they need to do to race but, most aren’t that skilled in horsemanship as a whole. Perhaps as apprentices, jockeys should be taught real horsemanship across a much wider syllabus rather than just how to race.

  2. Halfway To Nowhere Says:

    Another excellent piece, Sean.

    John McCririck has certainly never been one to concern himself with facts and given his current stance against the use of the whip it’s absolutely no surprise to see him defending true horsemen like Richard Hughes. But it is perhaps that perception (of Hughes) that has led to this sudden outcry.

    Without trying to appear too disrespectful, I would suggest that any direct criticism of the rules by jockeys such as Martin Dwyer reflects more upon their lack of talent rather than their persecution at the hands of the authorities. As Tonk says there are a great many jockeys who, on raw ability alone, aren’t in the same league as the likes of Dettori, Fallon, Hughes and Moore and I would hazard a guess that it’s all too tempting to jump on the ‘poor me’ bandwagon.

    The issues I have are with the newly floated notion of fines in place of bans, the ability of well-positioned (not necessarily top class) jockeys to pay such fines and the temptation to ride contrary to the rules of racing in order to win valuable or prestigious races.

    I believe George Baker spoke in favour of fines on ATR yesterday, but unless the fine reflects the potential loss of earnings of the jockey in question, what motivation is there not to break the rules? If a two day ban for careless riding means either a loss of £1,000 in jockey’s fees or a £250 fine, what’s the more likely outcome? Or if fines are to be representative of financial loss, what’s the point of having them in the first place?

    It’s a completely unworkable solution, not least because it would favour high profile riders. Those bagging group races left, right and centre aren’t going to be concerned by a monetary slap on the wrists, especially if, like Richard Hills, they’re already on a retainer. I can’t profess to know how such agreements are arranged, but I doubt very much whether he or Sheikh Hamdan is going to feel the effect if he knocks a rival sideways in winning a race; prestigious or otherwise.

    The rules of racing, like the BHA’s watering directive, exist for a reason – to either govern or guide the participants of the sport in carrying out their job, or make clear what punishments may be applied when certain acts are seen to have been committed. We all have instructions to work by – whether they be company-based, industry-regulated or governmental – and have no right to argue them in the case of proven infringements. Top flight jockeys are fortunate enough to be very well paid for what they do – and deservedly so – and can live without the pressure of constant rule-breaking potentially costing them their job.

    The likes of Richard Hughes need to realise just how lucky they really are and concern themselves with riding properly rather than ‘at all costs’.

  3. fawwon Says:

    Richard Hughes has always had a style that requires him taking the dicey route. Because of his extreme wasting he is too weak to drive a horse for as long as the likes of moore, dettori etc…His alternative is too cover up and let the pack tow him along. Sometimes it works but often it dosen’t.

    Hughes has been remarkable in maiking a career on the flat for himself but it comes at a price. The tremdous toll the wasting has and a highly specialised style that involves above average risk. In the words of the late lamented James Willoughby “keep it simple Seb” aint an option for Hughsey

  4. seanboyce Says:

    Hi tonk, that’s an interesting point you make and sometimes I do think that’s a factor although there are very large numbers of very experienced horsemen and women amongst jockeys. Some have been riding longer thant they’ve been walking but I know what you mean about some jockeys being geared only to racing (same is true of the horses of course).
    Fawwon, that’s also an interesting take and you may be right. All jockeys have to ride to their specific strengths. Although, some would argue that someone like George Baker often adopts similar tactics (and has very similar issues due to his height) but without picking up days. I had an email from a viewer today saying that they thought Spencer is struggling at the moment because his favoured hold up tactics don’t work on fast ground. I’ve no idea what might be going on with Spencer at the moment but his stats certainly support that theory as his strike rate has fallen through the floor in the dry conditions, I guess we’ll see if it picks up when the ground changes.
    HtN,
    Totally agree re fines. It’s a ridiculous suggestion. It’s even more complicated than the current system (which ain’t broke anyway) and as you say is impossible to apply equitably. In fairness to Baker, he was simply thinking aloud (at my request!). He took his supsension (after Ascot win) in his stride and is not likely to have major issues with current system as he’s smart enough not to get banned very often.

  5. ken cambs Says:

    I can’t say that I’ve ever been a particular admirer of Richard Hughes and his apparent knack of steering horses towards all manner of traffic problems. Then again, I suppose those split-second decisions are even more crucial when you’re a hold-up merchant. However, when my judgement has not been impaired by a financial interest, I must admit that, especially this season, he appears to have ridden some tactically sound races resulting in his horses arriving late, fast and successfully.

    It might be interesting, though probably not wise or productive, to analyse the actual outcome of races resulting in jockeys receiving bans/fines for careless riding. Did the offending jockeys win or lose the races in question? If a high percentage failed to be first past the post then that might point to other factors.
    Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t even dare to imagine that it’s better to appear to be ‘in trouble on the rails’ ‘boxed in with a wall of horses in front’ ‘an unlucky loser’ than to be accused under the non-triers rule. Sorry, that’s just the conspiracy-theorist in me…I used to be an innocent eternal optimist…..now I just resign myself to what fate throws at me.

  6. Santiburi Says:

    Sean, all good points and all those who have commented, thank you: seems like there’s pretty much a consensus. Found this thread interesting.

  7. fawwon Says:

    8.20 Muss July 14th Oondiri Paul Hanagan. Check this 1 out if you haven’t seen it. No ban, no nothing. Blatant breaking of the rules.

    Poor old Tom O’Ryan on RUK couldn’t decide if he was
    a) Objective journalist mindful of his readership and viewers
    b) Paul Hanagan’s pal

    Answers to RUK

    £20 per month for the jockey’s mate to say he can’t comment just in case someones’s listening….

  8. Santiburi Says:

    fawwon, Tom Eaves could have objected. The Stewards could have watched the race and taken action. After all, they are the adjudicators as far as the Rules of Racing are concerned.
    I’m no authority on the Rules but I imagine that the only rule that Hanagan might have broken was the one that says he needs to hold his line until the marker pole. The video wasn’t that clear but my guess is he broke his line well before the marker pole and so the Stewards should have had him in.
    Whatever, the result wasn’t affected. Eaves’ horse was all over the place and not helped by Eaves going for a non-existent gap on at least two occasions. The best horse won and won well in the end.
    To me, the issue is the inconsistency but a lot of that IMVHO is down to the lack of real professionals in the key roles. The money being wasted on trying to bring in new spectators should first be directed at ensuring that Racing is a professionally run sport.

  9. fawwon Says:

    Why would Eaves object? Nothing would change. The farsical thing was Tom O’Ryan biting his lip just in case the Stewards were stirred into action. An absolute farce.

    IMHO the Yanks have it right. Who can forger Frank Spencer hampering Kent Desormeaux in teh Arlington Million. The jockey on the second and eventual winner punching the air as he went past the post!

    We now have a sport where you can foul and there is no penalty affecting the result on the day. Just another example of the sheer incompetence that is ruining the sport. To think that Phil Bull is partly responsible for all this nonsense is very ironic.

  10. ken cambs Says:

    Fawwon asked….Who can forger Frank Spencer

    Thanks Fawwon for rekindling that memory. I used to like Frank’s innocent bumbling and forever getting into scrapes. I reckon there’s a bit of Frank in me though how Betty put up with him I’ll never know. I realise he was a bit of an all-rounder but I didn’t know that he later became a jockey. That long-suffering guy in the employment exchange must have breathed a sigh of relief when Frank went Stateside.

  11. Santiburi Says:

    fawwon, there is an element of incompetence but I stand by inconsistency and lack of a professional edge. The Yanks have different rules to the UK but they like consistency and employ professionals. There’s too much to copy into a posting but the skills, knowledge, abilities and tasks listed alongside the job spec for a US Steward include the following ‘knowledge’ items:

    (1) Horse racing with pari-mutuel wagering.
    (2) Operations of satellite wagering facilities with simulcast horse racing.
    (3) Business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.
    (4) Structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
    (5) Laws, regulations, policies and procedures relevant to the horse racing program.
    (6) Management processes and techniques.

    Take just (1) and (2) as example then from personal exposure, albeit a couple of years ago being the last occasion, I don’t believe many, if any, of our Stewards recognise the significance that their judgements might have on betting.
    For that matter, a good number of the higher management types don’t understand the linkages either. Nick Luck raised the issue yesterday when commenting on the Racing For Change-proposed amendments to the photo finishes procedure which, if unmodified from what’s proposed, seemingly would elongate the process to build excitement yet, speed is off the essence as Racing needs punters to get paid out asap so that they can then bet on the next race. Sadly, the point will be lost on them and so a major reorganisation is required.

  12. fawwon Says:

    The racing for Change brigade are a classic consultancy aren’t they. Change odds to decimals and longer waits for photos. That will be £500K Mr Racing for those two gems, please call again won’t you.

    Oh sorry Mr Racing your card has been declined. Cash only I am afaid.

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