I'm used to seeing a pantomime horse at Christmas time in Babes in the Wood or Jack and the Beanstalk. Yesterday the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) paraded its own October pantomime horse, "Review of the Rules", produced by a company of Bloody Hopeless Amateurs.
The plot goes something like this:
Act One: The Authorities are reviewing some of the rules of racing. There has been growing concern from the masses that some horses are being hurt because those nasty evil jockeys keep hitting them with a whip. The Authorities ask Tim Morris, a professor of equine science and welfare, and therefore Very Knowledgeable, to investigate and report in nine months time.
His report becomes more important when Jason Maguire, the jockey riding the winner of the Race the People Love, is seen to hit his horse 14 times. And even more so when the lovable liâ€™l Italian is a bit heavy-handed during a race the Queen is watching.
Act Two: Professor Tim speaks to lots of people who care about horses and care about racing about his ideas. The Really Scary Peoplesâ€™ Campaign for Animals (RSPCA) say that jockeys use the whip too much, but agree we shouldnâ€™t throw it away altogether. The Phantastic Jeremiahs Agency (PJA), who represent the cast, are able to see doom and gloom in everything. When their shop steward, Kevin Darley, speaks to Professor Tim, he doesn't know whether to emphasise the doom or the gloom, but is pretty sure it must be one or the other.
Act Three: The Authorities announce that Professor Tim has come up with some ideas that everybody is happy with and so they will introduce them in three weeksâ€™ time. Any of the actors who can't abide by the rules will have to miss 5 performances the first time they get it wrong, and 10 performances on the second occasion. They will also forfeit their performance fee and any share of the takings (this is a co-operative venture). The PJA ask for more rehearsal time, but the Authorities say that a date has been fixed for opening and cannot be changed.
Act Four: A Day at the Races. The new rules are in place and all is going well until scene seven, when the horses ridden by principal boy Richard Hughes, and his apprentice Kieren Fox, forget their lines and have to be reminded with the whip. Hughes and Fox are told not to come in for five days later in the run. In the next three days more actors are sent home and the cast is beginning to look a bit thin. The People's Information Service (PIS) are broadcasting a lot about this, which upsets the Authorities, because there is a Champion Performance taking place on Saturday, and they would like the PIS to build up excitement for this.
The PJA still can't decide whether to play the doom card (the rules are wrong) or the gloom card (the punishments are too severe), but they start to jump up and down because they sure that one of these is true.
Act Five: Thursday. The PJA ask the Authorities to look at the doom card, but don't say exactly which bit they think should be taken out of the script. Professor Tim, who wrote the script, says that the Authorities will not be changing it. "All our rules are under constant review but the short answer is no, we're not going to (change them)." Production director (of race day operations and regulation) for the Authorities, Jamie Stier, says they might do. Principal boy Hughes says he has had enough of this silly pantomime and isnâ€™t going to play any more part in it.
Friday. Chairman of the Authorities, Paul Roy, says that after four performances it's clear that the script might need some tweaking. He said that the Authorities had spoken at length to the PJA, and that they agreed the script was broadly right. "However, they have a certain concerns, particularly in relation to the penalty structure (gloom card), and we expect to receive further formal written submissions from them shortly."
The final scenes in this pantomime have yet to be written.