The British Horseracing Authority is to carry out a widespread review of the role of raceday stewards and the way they carry out their functions. Chief executive Paul Bittar said yesterday that there was no urgency to complete the review. He sees the current year as an opportunity to discuss and consult over a range of ideas, with a view to a gradual change of approach over the next 2-3 seasons.
Amongst the ideas under consideration is the introduction of a new central stewarding which could set the penalties for jockeys who infringe the rules; increased use of technology; and greater dialogue with broadcasters so they can better inform viewers about proceedings, particularly with the likely advent of televised stewards’ enquiries.
Bittar has a clear and simple view of the role of stewards. He says, “The role of stipes and stewards is not primarily a policing role. Fundamentally it’s about managing and co-ordinating the raceday – it’s almost like community policing in a way.”
One aspect of racing, which Bittar has not mentioned is the identification of non-triers, something that Timeform raised at the start of the current, jumps season in its Chasers and Hurdlers annual. An essay there suggested “The rules requiring horses to be ridden on their merits are regularly flouted. At time nowadays, at some of the more far-flung outposts of jump racing, it seems as if (stewards) are hardly applying (the rules) at all.”
That’s a serious allegation, and, of course, one that Timeform simply cannot highlight with specific cases because of the libel laws. David Cleary, former editor of Chasers and Hurdlers thinks there are several cases every week of “horses of established merit who have clear chances on form and yet apparently under perform without any valid explanation offered.”
Simon Clare, director of communications for Coral, is more concerned about novice horses that are learning their race craft. He says, “It’s still part of the culture of jump racing that horses in a race are still being given an education.” As a result, he feels action has to be taken to make some jump racing more competitive. “We’re not expecting every horse to be whipped or anything like that but we can’t get into a situation where it becomes acceptable to use the racecourse as a schooling ground.”
John Maxse gave the view of racing’s authorities, saying, “Unless it is a blatant case, which are now few and far between, whether a horse has been run on its merits is a subjective thing. It should also be pointed out that the absence of an enquiry on the day does not mean that the run of a particular horse has gone unnoticed.”
He points to procedures that are part and parcel of normal activity, such as the automatic enquiries, which take place when a horse wins a race without having previously finished in the places. The BHA’s view is that reviewing previous runs in this situation is an adequate safeguard to account for sudden and dramatic improvements in form. Yet it is over seven years since the authorities took any action against a trainer in those circumstances.
Some might argue that it doesn’t really matter that much, that horses can really only learn properly on the racetrack itself. But that’s plain wrong. It does matter, because if some horses are not running to win then it’s the paying punter like you and me who loses out. And if you then say to me, well it’s only certain stables, and they are well known for it, whilst you’re probably right on the first of those claims, I don’t accept it in relation to the second.
Cleary says that stewards are not doing enough to clamp down on non-triers. He says that turning a blind eye to this “seems to come down from the BHA. I think there are people on the BHA side who are aware of what is going on but there needs to be a will to tackle this thing.”
That’s not to say that stewards never act. Last December, for example, the Chepstow stewards banned a horse called Traditional Bob from running for 40 days under the non-triers rule. This was something of an embarrassment to the BHA, as Graeme McPherson, a QC who regularly acts for the organisation, trains the horse.
But if Cleary’s claim is right, then it’s something Paul Bittar should use the review of stewarding to address.