RUK’s Ruck with The Champ

Thu, Nov 25, 2010

Betting News

RUK’s Ruck with The Champ

What can we learn from the apparent spat between champion jump jockey AP McCoy and leading RUK presenter Lydia Hislop? It has been widely reported that McCoy is refusing to cooperate with RUK following remarks made by Hislop after his ride on Get Me Out Of Here at Ascot.

I think this story tells us a lot about both the nature of our racing coverage but also the running of the sport and the attitudes of its participants.

Let’s get one red herring out of the way before we start. It’s often said that racing participants get an easy ride compared to professionals in other sports. This is nonsense. Racing, as I’ve so often argued, is unique because of its specific relationship with betting. Critical analysis of riding and training performances very often carries with it the implicit accusation of skulduggery. This is particularly true of highlighting ‘quiet’ rides like the McCoy performance on Get Me Out of Here.

There is no comparison between the discussion of such a topic and the Match of the Day style analysis of whether or not a centre back was too slow to step up and spring the offside trap as he should have done. In highlighting performances such as McCoy’s on that occasion the journalist, the audience and the jockey all know the subtext which is that the ride may have been open to interpretation as a ‘stop to lay’ ride, or a ‘handicapping’ ride. There is simply no getting away from that subtext and that’s why comparisons with straightforward punditry in other sports are false.

A fairer comparison would be to compare racing coverage with the number of times that snooker commentators have implied that a shot was deliberately missed in order to engineer a correct frame betting coup. How many times have you heard tennis commentators question whether a retiring player is genuinely hurt or merely securing the gamble on his opponent? Such questions in other sports are left to investigative news journalists. Look at cricket. It was the News of the World that shouted what had been whispered in cricket press boxes for years. The ‘native’ hacks nearly always steer well clear.

There are many parallels between the press packs of all major sports, indeed there is often crossover with the journalists themselves. I’ve worked in press boxes at top flight football grounds and at racecourses and the methods, the relationships and the mentalities are remarkably similar. So don’t let anyone kid you that the racing press pack is substantively different to the groups covering other sports. It is not true.

In fact, Lydia Hislop’s remarks and the response they provoked may be indicative of a strand of reporting within racing coverage which is more robust than would be found within other sports media. Nor was Hislop alone in making such observations of the ride. Simon Holt wrote of his surprise that the stewards hadn’t got involved. Nobody made any accusations.

So why has McCoy been angered enough to cease communications with the specialist racing channel that once used his image in its publicity? Like all jockeys, McCoy will be sensitive to analysis which implies, or may seem to imply, dishonesty or deceit on his part. Wrongful accusations can be enormously harmful to individual careers and reputations. This is particularly true when participants within the sport and the paid reporters of that sport know that such acts do indeed occur. He can also – rightly – point out that the stewards on the day took no action.

I’ve said it before but I’m happy to say it again. I believe that horses are frequently raced and ridden in order to deliberately conceal their ability. I believe that practice is long established, entrenched and endemic. I also believe that most racing professionals and professional racing media people would privately (if not publicly) accept that this is the case.

All of us who work in covering the sport have to reach our own personal conclusion about how we feel about this and how it will affect our coverage of the sport. I’ve outlined my view elsewhere on this blog. I believe that I have an obligation to be fair to participants in my coverage. I am mindful that sitting in a TV studio, or by a monitor on course, one is very rarely in possession of sufficient facts to make hard and fast judgements. I think it’s important that my comments reflect that reasonable margin for error and for doubt. When there are clear and proven facts available I am as robust in my reporting and commenting as anyone.

I’m mindful too of the legal implications that attend any comment I might make. For two long years now I’ve had a very significant legal case hanging over me which reinforces this. As a freelance journalist getting one such judgement wrong could end my career.

I’ve no idea what Lydia Hislop’s personal stance is on the level of ‘rule bending’ within the sport. What is pretty clear to any observer though is that Hislop is first and foremost a passionate devotee of racing. She is a real and genuine fan. She is also a fine journalist. She is not of racing in the way that many of her peers are by which I mean that she remains steadfastly without the tiny microcosm of the racing community.

This degree of separation gives her valuable objectivity, or it gives her naive and unrealistic expectations of the conduct of the sports participants depending on your point of view.

I would suggest that anyone reviewing that race at Ascot would consider it pretty reasonable for the stewards to have sought some further explanation from jockey and trainer regarding the ride. The fact that the stewards failed to seek such information has left journalists unnecessarily exposed. The line of questioning is reasonable but it should have been undertaken by the sport’s own officials on the day. In that sense Hislop has been let down by racing rather than the other way around. We can’t reach a conclusion as we don’t have any of the relevant feedback from those directly involved.

This brings us to the crux of this matter. How we feel about what has happened here depends entirely on what kind of sport we think we’re running and what kind of sport we want.

I would maintain that the status quo within racing is to accept exposure to a certain degree of low level corruption in the sense of tolerating/failing to investigate minimal effort performances. A line is drawn at the extreme end of the spectrum with often only the most spectacular and inept stopping rides likely to attract action.

This status quo is maintained by the sports authorities with the complicity of both participants and media. Many characterise this as the racing media being spineless or addicted to the ‘gravy train’. This is simplistic. As already mentioned, racing is no different to any other major sport in terms of the symbiotic relationship between dedicated media and the sports participants. Journalists who attack participants who have not been found in breach of any rule of the sport are exposed not just to a jockey’s cold shoulder but to the long arm of our libel laws too.

If we want journalists to be freely analytical and critical we need a ruling body that will rigorously enforce the sports existing rules. In that sense the sport gets the coverage it deserves. If the rules are forgiving of transgressions then so , necessarily, must the coverage be.

If we want a sport with a zero tolerance of cheating then once again that lead must come from the ruling body. It’s down to the participants then to enact those rules. If this were the case there would be a lot less sensitivity to ‘criticism’. Jockeys and trainers might more easily relate to the media and the public the complex realities of different race riding situations.

In a debate which has so far been characterised by whether you’re with Hislop or McCoy I will (as ever!) take the third way. Hislop is doing her job by asking pertinent questions. McCoy is doing his job by riding in a way which is presumably consistent with his instructions. We just need race officials to do their job and make sure that the public can be confident that the performance satisfied the demands of the existing rules.

Hopefully we can continue this debate in order to move towards a consensus on where we stand on these issues. A good start would be the existing rule book being robustly enforced with immediate effect.

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17 Responses to “RUK’s Ruck with The Champ”

  1. JJMSports Says:

    Fantastic Sean, great point made without hopefully crossing too many people.

  2. Halfway To Nowhere Says:

    More first rate stuff, Sean.

    By the way, did you get my second e-mail?

  3. seanboyce Says:

    Hey, Tom just got it and replied thanks. Sean

  4. fawwon Says:

    Hislop had a job reviewing rides for the BBC, but then she “resigned”. She was on the C4 Morning Line and had a confrontation with their guest whose name escapes me. He asked her “how many winners she had ridden”. She aint on the programme anymore! She used to write for the Times where the “in house” Alan Lee resides. She don’t write for them anymore either!

    Is there a pattern to all this, what does the formbook tell us?

    Now she is in the crosshairs at RUK. If RUK use Lydia they have a problem with jockey co-operation. Seems obvious to me what the game is. the busiest thread on The Racing Forum is tiled “conspiracy Against Lydia Hislop” and that is what it seems to be.

    Do the jockeys have the good of the game at heart or personal enrichment. That jockey whose name escapes me aint skint is he. Pity the sport he’s a chamion of is though! Sports personality yeh right!

  5. R Hills is God Says:

    Don’t really agree with you here Boycie. It goes well beyond sidestepping individual rides, where not wanting to imply larceny is an issue.

    General comments about riders’ records as a whole are also sickly sweet. Name me a jockey that doesn’t have ‘lovely hands’, who doesn’t ‘ride this track well’, who actually deserves LESS rides, who hasn’t bothered to walk the track because he’s too lazy, who isn’t above average.

    The only ones I can think of, according to the British racing media, are Take, Pieux, Head et al. Spot anything these guys have in common?

  6. seanboyce Says:

    I agree re criticism of foreign jockeys and have said so publicly on more than one ocassion.
    Would still maintain though that behaviour of racing press is not significantly different to the dedicated press coverage of other sports.
    The idea that all coverage is anodyne and postiive is just plain wrong though. When clear errors are made by trainers or jockeys they are reported and discussed. Incidents of dropping hands etc are fully discussed normally with different viewpoints aired. Decisions of trainers of when and where to run are widely discussed. The McCoy ride was not mentioned only by Hislop it was written about by Simon Holt and since then by Greg Wood and others. Casela Park story was very widely covered, so too Am I Blue story. Gary O’Brien, Kevin O’Ryan and myself had a lengthy live debate recently on the merits of a Davey Russell ride.
    On a day to day basis, you’re right of course that most coverage tries to accentuate the positive. You have to remember though that you’re talking here about dedicated racing channels. Channels which both, in their different ways, have significant commercial connection to key players in the racing industry and which both depend for their survival on the promotion of the sport itself.
    This is what I’m driving at really. We need to think about what kind of sport we want and what our norms are, what we accept and what we don’t. There is a conflict at the moment between the existing norms as practised by most within the sport and most within the media and the concept of what some think the sport should be, or aspire to be.
    It would be easier to cultivate an atmosphere that allowed for open and civilised analysis and criticism if the sport itself was open and robust in its own management and rule enforcement and practices.

  7. fawwon Says:

    I think the point about Hislop is that she isn’t “in house” so she scares the living daylights out of the jockeys. They probably think that she would quite happily expose anyone she caught red handed and take the plaudits for digging out corruption. She probably could go and do something else so isn’t as scared as a lot of the press room lap dogs.

    Sean you mentioned that you had a legal matter lurking about. Are you able to elaborate? Otherwise it must be Deano!

  8. seanboyce Says:

    I’d agree with that fawwon. Indeed I’ve described her as ‘without’ the racing fraternity in her approach. On the other hand as someone who makes her living through the sport and who is clearly a passionate fan, and who sits on BHA committees and so forth she is, at the same time, a member of the racing establishment.
    One of the interesting aspects of the coverage of the sport is that, in my experience, there is little or no direction as to how journalists should conduct themselves. In other words we all feel our way and arrive at our own conclusions as to where we stand and how we want to operate.
    Very many have traditionally adopted the ‘clubby’ mentality. They will often affect a familiarity with the sports exponents even when no such familiarity actually exists. This is a reflection of the ‘norms’ within the sport.
    What’s interesting about the current situation is the conflict between that traditional MO and those (like Lydia and others) who want to operate differently. That’s what I’m getting at really the way coverage goes is somewhat up for grabs and depends on where the sport is heading and what the conventions are amongst those within the sport and those who police it.
    I’m not saying that any particular style or method is correct, simply musing on the current state of affairs since I find it interesting.

  9. fawwon Says:

    I knew a very, very, very famous sports journalist, infact he was a “doyen” if you please. He has been up to his eyeballs in debt to a major form ever since he worked in Fleet St. Whenever he did racing he absolutely eulogised a certain book’s Pr man. I can’t say who the PR man is though coz he was wearing a moustache and dark rimmed spectacles!

    Lydia is obviously not up to her eyes in debt to any books and don’t need info from jockeys or trainers so she is free to go about her business. She thinks that her bread is buttered by viewers and readers, not multi millionaire sportsman and gamblers.

  10. Patrick Says:

    Very articulate post as always Sean, but a lot of it is a smokescreen, even if I agree with a lot of the latter.

    Somehow the authorities lack of a spine is an excuse for every racing hack, pundit, TV presenter to do his impression of an ostridge?.

    Your comparison with other sports?, can I be blunt? is total bullshit!

    Am I allowed bring up Panorama and Kenyon Confronts?, you as a media rather than confront the blatant evidence of corruption that was layed on the table right before your eyes, decided that the best course of action was to attack the programme makers?.

    Dermot Browne was a nutcase?, this coming from the most corrupt jockey that ever existed in British horse racing, GRAHAM BRADLEY!.
    Roger Buffham was a man who had an axe to grind?, as for Kenyon confronts?, Ferdy actually admitted that £1600 was won on a horse laid to lose, called Christanstaid or something similar.
    Yet the media reported it as entrapment??, yet you remove the investigative journalists from the fold and if “I!” asked the same questions?, I’d have got the same answers that Osbourne and Murphy ventured to the the so called investigative journalists, basically any Tom,Dick or Harry.

    Take cycling Sean?, both David Walsh (Sunday Times) and former cyclist Paul Kimmage (Dublin) have left no stone unturned to not only expose the use of drugs in cycling, but let everyone and his dog know that cheating is anathema?.
    Racing can do the exact same thing you don’t have to name names, BUT WHERE THE HELL ARE YEH??????.

    Oops mind yourself the gravy train is coming through…

  11. fawwon Says:

    Everyone knows that the betting exchange are sitting on enough data to blow the whole industry apart. So for the moment when insiders lay horses for connections their accounts are shadowed by employees betting on their own accounts on credit! All the exchange do is charge these corruptors more for the facility. Let’s hope that no one at exchange towers ever fancies doing a wikileaks.

  12. Patrick Says:

    Agree fawwon, yet this cheats paradise they call the exchanges is left untouched by the media. They enjoy the different forms of betting the exchanges has to offer compared to the tradiotnal fare the bookies offer, the likes of in-running and laying a horse to lose etc….
    The great white elephant, the so called audit trail used by the media to justify this juicy dangling carrot for would be cheats is yet another smokescreen.
    Sean himself says he’s more of a layer than a backer, Matt Williams formerly of the Racing Post is a picture thief, an in running aficionado, so basically this den of iniquity that is better known as the Betting Exchanges enjoys an easy ride from the media because they enjoy it, cue ostridge impression even though nearly every bad headline racing has created for itself over the last 10 year all had their roots in the ability to lay horses to lose on the exchanges.
    Oh but what about the audit trail? WHAT AUDIT TRAIL?, just another red herring, the odd bit of information is leaked to the authorities as a sort of appeasement, a justification of sorts because they know full well that what they offer is open to rank abuse, so fawwon the vast majority of that data will remain under lock and key KGB style and will never see the light of day, because if it ever came out it would not only bring racing to its knees but the exchanges too.
    Racing was always been inherently corrupt, often the authorities would cover things up, because less bad headlines nmean’t more new recruits through the turnstiles, bad headlines are turn off for would be new racing fans, so in away the authorities have made things worse by turning a blind eye, they have actually encouraged and entrenched cheating in the game, helped in no small way by a silent subservient media, how the exchanges was ever passed in parliament I simply do not know?.
    But here they are and here to stay I presume?, and will be abused for ever more, how could you ignore such a chance of an easy buck?.

  13. R Hills is God Says:

    Sean, if it’s openess you want from racing’s rulers then maybe you should consider coming to Wakey Wakey 2 – Return to Shhhhhhaftesbury tomorrow night. Who Knows? Maybe one or two of them will be there to meet their public.

  14. seanboyce Says:

    I’ve said on any number of ocassions both here on my blog, and on air, that the racing media is complicit in a culture which condones cheating to a greater or lesser extent. I can’t be any clearer.
    There have also however been very many examples over the years of the ‘racing media’ that you reckon has it’s head in the sand raising concerns, flagging up rides, betting patterns etc that have led to investigations and penalties.
    That’s what I mean when I say we need to consider what kind of sport we want, how we want it policed and how we want it covered.
    As for exchanges, if you think I’ve blindly promoted exchanges without questioning all of the downsides, especially as regards the ‘audit trail’ then I’m sorry you haven’t been paying attention.
    If you think that I, and several others, have stuck our heads in the sand then you also haven’t been paying attention.
    The whole point of the piece above is to try and continue the debate re coverage.
    That I’m more of a layer than a backer has nothing to do with my job and everything to do with my preferred betting methods. If I referred to your betting in the same tone on air, I’d expect to be in hot water with my employers, Ofcom and with your lawyers potentially. That’s how little leeway there is in broadcasting to get it wrong. That’s in order to protect innocent people like yourself from being wrongly maligned by people who don’t actually know the first thing about you and what you do but think it’s ok to publicly guess.
    Different people will have different views. I don’t want to see a totally subservient and compliant media covering the sport. I want to see a robust and intelligent analysis coupled with robust and transparent policing and I think there’s a way to go on both fronts but there is a dynamic relationship between the sport, its rulers and the media and movement is sometimes slow.
    I don’t want to see a situation where the media have carte blanche to feel that they have the primary role in policing the sport and where pundits are calling decisions on whether a ride is straight or not because pundits (every one of us) can often get it totally wrong.
    Somewhere inbetween there is the right balance. I think the media has moved some way towards that balance, especially since the advent of the satellite racing channels. Inclusion of Chris Cook on shortlist for HWPA award is another positive sign of a changing culture.
    I would have liked to have come along tomorrow but I’m at a governing body meeting at the local school where I’m a governor. We had Ofsted in this week so it’s an important meeting and I can’t skip it I’m afraid. Hope it goes well though.

  15. R Hills is God Says:

    Understood Boycie. Being ‘The Daddy’ and ‘The Guv’nor’ brings with them obligations.

  16. Patrick Says:

    Sean, did you not say many times in the booth when on ATR that you’re more of a layer than a backer?, so the information was well and truely in the public domain.
    I was making the point that a sizeable proportion of racings media use the exchanges in some form or other and are much more likely to flag up the positives of the exchanges rather than the negatives, isn’t it just a little ironic that the supposed positives all have their roots in the very real negatives?.
    Picture thieves are not doing anything illegal, but it can be used in a negative way because they know that the fast pictures offer them a slight advantage to other in-running players
    The clear message here of course is, if you haven’t got fast pics then leave well enough alone especially at the very business end of a race.

    Some might argue that the infamous Tennis game the one where Davydenko retired prematurely was proof positive of Betfairs supposed transparency.
    Considering the amount of money involved it was pretty obvious genuine tennis fans on Betfair were going to smell a rat, so under pressure from suspicious punters Betfair had no choice but to act and inform the Tennis authorities as to the unusual betting patterns, any transparency that exists usually comes from punter concerns rather than any real conviction from Betfair to expose possible corrupt activities.
    But how transparent are the Exchanges Sean, in these days of VPN and multiple betting accounts under different names?. VPN making your IP adress virtually impossible to track. The cuter ones will remain undectable only the really greedy will get caught and even then considering the authorities record, they’ll back plying their trade in horse racing in a few short months.

    Sean, I enjoy your blog and you do say a lot more than most as regards corruption in horse racing, but that doesn’t mean I have to always agree with you.
    I think your comparison with other sports and how its reported is flawed, because when I see drug cheats or match fixers in these other sports the media go to town on them, Rio Ferdinand was crucified for missing a drug test, just to give you one example.
    In racing with a few exceptions,( now I must point out that these few exceptions still play it pretty safe ) when corruption is unearthed or a horse fails a dope test its usually just reported with a little footnote and swiftly forgotten about.
    When the Panorama and Kenyon confronts stories aired, imo here we had a perfect opportunity for racings media to remove the constraints and get to the heart of the issue, instead what we got was, “nothing to see here, move on, we heard it all before and the usual accusations of sensationalism, one thing racing journalism can never be accused of is sentationalism, well if you disregard Chapmans hyperactivity, for the most part they remain muzzled and nailed to the fence, for fear of missing out on a precious interview, if McCoy and Thorntons reaction of late is anything to go by, nothing much is ever going to change.

  17. fawwon Says:

    Mention of the old issue of “Fast Pics”. Maybe Sean could give us his take on the whole scenario. He is uniquely placed as he works for ATR. Obviously if there is a conspiracy going on with pics being deliberately delayed by ATR & RUk then Sean won’t be able to comment seeing as he needs to pay the mortgage and the gas bill like us all!

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