Richard Hoiles is a first class racing commentator, he has a smooth easy manner, is uber professional, experienced and has credibility among other racing professionals, he isn't bad on the eye either but what he said in his column in yesterday's Racing Post left me not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The headlines read "Racing's governors need to clamp down on unruly behaviour".
Bravo and so they should........ However, he didn't mean bad owners who don't pay their dues to trainers for all the hard work done on their horses and all the costs trainers have to bear in order to do that work, nor was he referring to owners breaking racings clear rules on (not) laying their own horses or, for that matter jockeys known as "Betfair" jockeys. Nor did he mean racings professionals stepping out of line or bringing our lovely sport into disrepute. No, what he meant was the behaviour of the horses themselves.
He mentioned two horses running last week, one naughty boy at Cheltenham who refused to line up "Ceporine". Apparently he was unruly in the preliminaries and dumped his rider at the start. The problem seemed to be that he was deemed a runner under the current rules so those who backed him lost their money. Forgive me but I had thought that was called "gambling" which means you risk losing as well as possibly winning, and the more unpredictable the outcome the bigger the odds and the more you "might" win or lose, either way it’s a risky business this "gambling" isn't it?
The second horse mentioned "UAE Prince" at Doncaster was favourite but had not entered the parade ring when the bell rang (often the bell goes and there aren't even any jockeys in the parade ring, much to the annoyance of owners and trainers but this is never mentioned because it doesn't affect the betting public and to hell with racings professionals even if they are seriously inconvenienced). In this case the horse came into the ring on his hind legs, was very swiftly mounted and sent to post. A rule breaker? Unfair to punters?
No, it was an entirely sensible move by connections to ensure the horse and rider got to post as safely as possible without making an already difficult and wound up horse worse both at the time and for future race days.
Richard complained that "Increasingly, racing flexes rules to pander to these sorts of scenario". He went on to complain that the number of racecourses where horses can be saddled in the stable yard rather than in the parade ring without needing permission has been increased". And that’s a problem? On the contrary, racing has been amending rules that have needed amending for years in order to help racings professionals deal with horses in a safer, more relaxed environment which has far more benefits than the one and only negative which is the betting public can't see them being saddled.
Firstly on many of the UK's older tracks the stables are so far away it is not possible or practical to saddle them in the stables despite the obvious advantages. These include horses being calmer, happier and more relaxed (and that’s important for anyone gambling because it's in their best interest that the said horse is not would up and agitated before the race) and it is much safer for all concerned. So wherever possible saddling in racecourse stables is simply a sensible move which all tracks should agree to if practical.
There are times when, as Richard points out, the well behaved horses in the stalls pay the price for the naughty ones, and he has a point here, but his "three attempts at entering stalls and you’re out of the race" idea cannot work, punters themselves would be up in arms at this one let alone the horses connections. Frankly the starters do an amazing job and trainers who consistently have unruly horses are taken to task and prevented from running all their youngsters/ horses unless they go for pre-race stalls tests . I have never been in this position but as far as I know the rule still applies.
A trainer’s job is to get the best out of a racehorse for the benefit of the owner who is paying the bills. Some horses are very challenging and extremely difficult, on occasions some are borderline dangerous if not handled correctly and a trainers jobs and that of his or her staff is to pre-empt any problems that might arise, we know our horses better than anyone and we can see, and sense when a horse is about to do something silly, unpleasant or threatening. The betting public cannot, and nor can many of the commentators. The experienced horsemen among those commentators can see it, and are able to explain what’s happening and why to Jo public, but others cannot and should refrain from commenting on something they know precious little about.
While racings professionals, trainers/ jockeys and stable staff all recognise the importance of gambling to our industry and our sport, nevertheless we must never be requested or expected, to do our job for the benefit of the gamblers. This would be to the detriment of the sport, the horses in our care and their owners and ultimately would lead to safetly issues for our staff and jockeys. The gamblers who follow racing and love to bet are well aware that they are risking their "hard earned" but thanks to the excellent publications both online and in print of the Racing Post and Timeform, the information available to them about horses temperaments is generally very well documented and if it isn't good enough then a far safer and more sensible approach would be to have experienced horsemen or woman as paddock watchers reporting tricky behaviour and keeping form guides fully updated.
Incidentally, Timeforms assesment of the jumper "Ceporine" mentioned by Richard Hoiles in his piece yesterday says.....
second foal: dam maiden hurdler/chaser in France: fairly useful form over hurdles: won novice at Fakenham (by 5 lengths from All Together) in May: 40/1, refused to race (unseated rider soon after start) in minor event won by Sceau Royal at Cheltenham last time: best treated with caution.
I rest my case.