Tag Archive for: Professional Jockeys’ Association

Paul Struthers to leave role as chief executive of Professional Jockeys Association

Paul Struthers is to stand down as chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association after nearly 10 years in the role.

Dale Gibson, who retired from race riding in 2009 prior to joining the PJA initially as industry liaison officer before becoming executive director (racing) in 2015, has been appointed interim chief executive.

The announcement comes in the wake of criticism of the PJA leadership following the Bryony Frost/Robbie Dunne disciplinary hearing.

In a statement, Struthers said: “Throughout my time at the PJA, I have been extremely fortunate to represent jockeys who I have nothing but complete admiration for. In my dealings with hundreds of jockeys over the years, I have learned a huge amount from them and have tried to treat everyone with sincerity, respect and decency.

“Due to the relentless nature of their lives, jockeys rightly need the PJA to be available at all times and this role is a way of life, not a job. As many in racing will empathise, this has taken a significant toll on my family and personal life, and it is the right time to step aside.

“Representing the courageous, dedicated and resilient men and women who make up our diverse membership has been the greatest privilege of my career. I would like to thank everyone that has supported me in my role and I am incredibly proud of what the PJA has achieved over the last 10 years. This is only possible thanks to a talented, hard-working team who share a passion for the job and an incredibly supportive membership.

“Finally, I am very confident that any recommendations and improved procedures that the PJA and the sport puts in place will serve all our members well and improve their lives. They deserve nothing less.”

On behalf of the PJA, chairman Jon Holmes said: “It is with regret that we have accepted Paul’s resignation, but we understand and accept Paul’s decision. Paul has given a decade of his life to tirelessly striving to improve the lives of our jockeys. I and the whole team here want to pay tribute to Paul and thank him for everything he has done across a decade of selfless service.”

Gibson said: “I am pleased to accept the offer from the PJA board. With support from the small, hardworking PJA team, the restructured board and advisory groups, I look forward to continuing representing professional jockeys both on and off the course, building on previous initiatives whilst also progressing important ongoing work within the industry.

“Under Paul’s leadership a number of improvements have been achieved, benefiting all our members. I have enjoyed working with Paul during his tenure at the PJA and on behalf of our members we send Paul and his family our very best wishes for the future.”

Struthers succeeded Kevin Darley in February 2012 and joined the PJA board in April 2013.

Industry-wide group launched to address behavioural issues in racing

British racing’s major stakeholders have joined forces in a bid to address problems of behaviour within the sport following the Robbie Dunne bullying case.

Dunne was last week found by the independent disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority to have bullied and harassed fellow rider Bryony Frost, being banned for 18 months as a result, with three months suspended.

The BHA, National Trainers Federation, Professional Jockeys Association, National Association of Racing Staff, Racehorse Owners Association, Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and the Racecourse Association have united in a commitment to ensure “horseracing remains a progressive, modern industry when it comes to the conduct of our people”.

Robbie Dunne leaving the British Horseracing Authority's headquarters in London last week
Robbie Dunne leaving the British Horseracing Authority’s headquarters in London last week (Yui Mok/PA)

In a joint-statement, they said: “British racing is a diverse industry where individuals of varying identities and from a wide range of backgrounds work and compete side by side. It is a sport characterised by the shared values of camaraderie and conscientiousness which come hand in hand with working in an elite sport alongside equine athletes.

“It is essential that horseracing remains a progressive, modern industry when it comes to the conduct of our people. We must prioritise the well-being and development of our workforce, stand against discrimination of any kind in British racing, and invest in making racing a safe, fulfilling place to work.

“Great progress has already been made by the industry in terms of improving standards around training, education, employment practices, well-being, safeguarding and career development, with the entire sport involved in making racing a better place to work.

“However, there is always more that can and must be done. We must encourage a culture of openness and seek to support anyone who faces problems or has found themselves in difficulty. We must promote a culture of respect in how those involved in racing interact with one another and promote more diversity and inclusion at all levels of the industry.

“The signatories to this statement, therefore, today publicly commit to further improve standards, education and training around industry conduct, through the formation of a dedicated cross-industry working party.”  

Bryony Frost at Warwick racecourse
Bryony Frost at Warwick racecourse (Adam Davy/PA)

All the signatories have agreed to take part in a working party which will report into the industry People Board and will have the objectives of promoting the positive elements of conduct, educating participants, deter poor behaviour and any form of discrimination while calling out conduct which falls short of the joint expectations.

The group will be chaired by the BHA and include representatives from all the relevant bodies and the people that they represent. 

The working party will, as a priority, develop a specific action plan, which will be underpinned by research into the most effective examples of positive behaviour change from other industries.

It has amongst its objectives ensuring that the new code of conduct is properly communicated, explained and understood and that it achieves its objectives of raising standards of behaviour and conduct within the sport.

Bryony Frost considered France move before deciding to tackle bullying head on

Bryony Frost has revealed she considered relocating to France in her first interview since an independent panel of the British Horseracing Authority ruled she had been bullied and harassed by fellow rider Robbie Dunne.

Dunne was last week given an 18-month ban, with three months suspended, after being found in breach of all four counts of conduct prejudicial to horseracing.

The majority of the incidents in question took place in 2020, when Dunne was found by the panel to have threatened Frost by promising to “put her through a wing (of a fence)” and he was also accused of using misogynistic language such as “f****** whore”, “f****** slut” and “dangerous c***” towards her.

Following Thursday’s verdict, Frost said in a statement she would “take a few days to reflect” before commenting further.

Jockey Robbie Dunne leaving the British Horseracing Authority Headquarters in London
Jockey Robbie Dunne leaving the British Horseracing Authority Headquarters in London (Yui Mok/PA)

And speaking in The Sun on Tuesday, the 26-year-old revealed the extent of the turmoil she has suffered during the past 18 months.

“The world I was in was like ‘Take it on the chin, brush it under the carpet, it will be OK in time’. But it was increasing in momentum and getting worse,” said Frost.

“There were times I thought life shouldn’t just be about day-to-day living. My last resort was taking it to the BHA. I knew it was never going to stop but I had to give something a go because it was getting worse.”

Frost admits a move across the Channel did cross her mind, but she ultimately felt tackling the problem head on, rather than running away from it, was the right move.

She added: “There were times in all this when riding in France did turn my eye, and that would have been very easy for me to protect myself.

“But what happens when there’s another person who goes through a similar scenario and I hadn’t done anything to help?

“In the end it came down to two things. There was the point of I don’t believe anyone should make anyone feel that way, that you’re not worthy of being who you are.

“And the main one was I wouldn’t be a decent human being if I one day saw someone go through what I did, knowing I could have done something to prevent it happening again. If I allowed it to happen I’d be going back on everything I stand for in my own rules of life, how you treat people. I didn’t want to see anyone go through what I did.

“And I’m discovering there are people, not just jockeys, but general public, lads and lasses, everyone, who have been made to feel similar.

“So what I have gone through and had to do has been worth it if it helps less people feel the way I have and they have. I don’t just mean in sport, but in life.”

Bryony Frost after winning the Tingle Creek at Sandown on Greaneteen
Bryony Frost after winning the Tingle Creek at Sandown on Greaneteen (Steven Paston/PA)

Frost is critical of the role of the Professional Jockeys’ Association in the case, claiming: “They weren’t there for me and their system isn’t good enough.

“I felt like an inconvenience. There was no care or interest from them even when it reached the stage of the hearing.

“They just basically said that time would fix it. They wanted to ignore it until it went away. I don’t feel they saw what I was going through as being as serious as it was.

“They were meant to be neutral, they weren’t there to pick sides.

“It wasn’t about me versus Robbie Dunne, or about girls having to back girls, or trainers having to back trainers. It was about human beings – there has to be a line you can’t cross.

“You’re not going to get on with everyone but it’s about treating people with respect and dignity.”

She added: “They (PJA) are the jockeys’ voice, there to help all the members, but one of the PJA heads likened my scenario to his having a spat with a local cricket player in a Sunday afternoon village game.

“He said it was the same and we should just get on with it. The PJA are underwater, they’re drowning and not accepting they are.

“But as a system we have to accept that you can’t shout at someone like that.

“Yes there is a lot of adrenalin, emotion and pressure that can cause people to lose their characteristics. And I don’t just mean in the weighing room but everywhere within the sport.

“You get more respect trying to teach people by not shouting and calling names and making fun of them. You get more respect by educating people. They will learn and progress in their job.

“I am hoping the authorities can now go on and do their jobs. Not by putting a piece of paper in the weighing room saying, ‘Call this number’, but to offer proper help.”

The PJA declined to comment on Frost’s quotes when contacted by the PA news agency.

Much has been made of the fact that in the closing submissions of the hearing, Louis Weston, representing the BHA, described the weighing room culture as “rancid”.

The PJA has since rejected these claims, as have several jockeys.

Frost said: “It’s important to say there are extremely professional, good people in the weighing room.

“They’re not all like that — far from it. Not everyone in there should be tarnished with that brush.

“There are lots of really good people inside.”

The rider is now hoping for a brighter future – and revealed she has already noticed a difference in the attitudes towards her in the weighing room.

Frost added: “What do I want for myself? I just want to enjoy my riding, I want to move forward – I just want to be me.

“I’ve already been made to feel I am part of the weighing room, they do want me to sit down and have a cup of tea with them.

“I haven’t felt like that for some time.”

PJA chief accepts Bryony Frost was bullied and not ‘felt’ bullied

Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, has accepted the organisation was wrong to say Bryony Frost had “felt” bullied by fellow rider Robbie Dunne in the aftermath of Thursday’s conclusion to the high-profile British Horseracing Authority disciplinary hearing.

Dunne was banned for 18 months, with three months suspended, after the independent panel found he had bullied and harassed Frost, engaging in conduct on the track, in the weighing room and online that was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing.

The PJA statement issued following that verdict criticised both the British Horseracing Authority investigation and the panel, while expressing sympathy that Frost “felt” bullied – a statement Struthers acknowledged to be wrong.

Speaking to Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme, Struthers said: “Yes, we do accept the disciplinary panel’s judgement on that and their decision that she was. These are really unique circumstances, it’s the first time we’ve had a case like this involving bullying allegations pitting one member against another.

Bryony Frost was found to have been bullied and harassed by fellow jockey Robbie Dunne
Bryony Frost was found to have been bullied and harassed by fellow jockey Robbie Dunne (Adam Davy/PA)

“We have a job to support both and we had one member making very serious allegations and another maintaining their innocence of all bar one of them.

“We were trying to find the words that walked that tightrope and we understand why it has caused the issues that it has and why we do want to make clear that we do accept the disciplinary panel’s finding that Bryony was bullied and the language used was deeply and grossly inappropriate.

“We certainly accept we could have phrased it differently, I think there is that balance between the two polar opposite positions of the individuals involved in this case.”

In October the PJA had called on the BHA to bring the case to a close, claiming a fair hearing would be “impossible” after details of the report were leaked to a newspaper.

In Thursday’s statement the PJA said Dunne had been subjected to a process that was not “remotely fair”.

Struthers now concedes the initial insistence the case be dropped could have been a mistake, but believes the process itself needs further scrutiny.

He said: “Maybe it was an error and it would certainly have made life easier had we not made that call. I think there are things about the process, in particular in this case, but I think it is an issue we have had for some time about the process that licensed individuals face and concerns about the process.

Robbie Dunne has been banned for 18 months, with three months suspended
Robbie Dunne has been banned for 18 months, with three months suspended (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I think undoubtedly the panel conducted a process that was as fair as it could be. The problem we have, and I know this is unpopular, is we don’t think the whole process is fair. Regardless of that, we do accept the panel’s verdict.”

Struthers also admits the organisation has work to do surrounding the issue of trust in the weighing room – where the culture was described as “rancid” during the hearing by Louis Weston QC, representing the BHA.

Struthers added: “There clearly wasn’t that trust there between the PJA and Bryony.

“We need to reflect on that, we will need to learn from that. We will need to learn and see what we can do to make sure that is the case, we are certainly aware there are others who have felt that about the PJA and have trusted us.

“We don’t criticise Bryony in the slightest for going to the BHA – that is absolutely someone’s right.”

Tim Naylor, BHA director of integrity and direction, also appeared on Luck On Sunday and reflected on how both his organisation and the PJA can move forward following the hearing.

“The important thing with any investigation or case is that you learn from it. It doesn’t matter the result, we always reflect on our investigation, how the case was managed and run and we will learn those lessons that we need to learn,” he said.

BHA headquarters in London, where the hearing took place
BHA headquarters in London, where the hearing took place (John Stillwell/PA)

“In this case, clearly it took a long time for this matter to be brought before the judicial panel. It was charged in April, we need to look at that. We need to think that whilst we need to balance the right of any individual to respond and to make legal submissions, ultimately we need to get these things heard properly and quickly.

“We will go away, we will look at that and we will see what improvements could have been made.”

Of the future of the relationship between the two organisations, Naylor said: “It was great to hear from Paul this morning and the tone that Paul set with his comments.

“I support Paul fully for doing that. Paul has said this morning that Bryony was bullied and that’s an important first step and it’s an important step to reach out to Bryony and for the PJA and BHA to learn from this experience.

“That’s the important thing now, we’ve had an incredibly important case for racing, it was right that it was heard, it was right that it was heard publicly.

“There can’t be any suggestion of racing hiding away from these issues, of trying to bury them under the carpet.

“That hasn’t happened, we’ve met them head on. What comes with that is the tension afterwards, but we’re now in a better place as a result because we can have these important conversations.

“I can sit down with Paul, we can talk about what’s happened and we can look to improve things.”

Professional Jockeys Association rails against ‘rancid’ weighing-room culture claims

The Professional Jockeys Association rejected claims of a “rancid” weighing-room culture after Robbie Dunne was suspended for 18 months following a British Horseracing Authority disciplinary panel hearing into allegations he bullied and harassed Bryony Frost.

An independent panel on Thursday found Dunne in breach on all four counts of conduct prejudicial to horseracing and as a result his licence will be suspended with immediate effect, with three months of the ban suspended. He has seven days to lodge an appeal.

The remark about a “rancid” culture in the weighing room was made in closing submissions to the panel on Wednesday by Louis Weston, representing the BHA.

The PJA had previously appealed for the case to be terminated after elements of a preliminary report were leaked to the press, but the head of the panel, Brian Barker QC, dismissed the notion that this could be perceived as a mitigating factor.

The PJA statement read: “Before the PJA responds to the disciplinary panel’s findings, we want to make it clear that the PJA has great sympathy with Bryony Frost and takes no issue with the fact that a complaint was taken to the BHA.

Jockeys make their way out from the weighing room at Doncaster
Jockeys make their way out from the weighing room at Doncaster (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Bryony felt bullied, it certainly took courage to go through the process she has and we do not doubt the isolation she has felt. The PJA entirely accepts that Robbie Dunne’s conduct as found by the disciplinary panel fell well short of the standard the PJA expects.

“All that said, the PJA does not accept the disciplinary panel’s findings in relation to the culture within and collective behaviour of the jump jockeys’ weighing room. It is a grossly inaccurate and wholly unfair representation of the weighing room and a conclusion we believe is at odds with the evidence presented.

“The PJA does not condone bullying or the use of the type of language the disciplinary panel has concluded was used. Bullying and the use of such entirely inappropriate language cannot and will not be tolerated.

“Whilst we reject the wholesale criticism of the culture within the weighing room, everything is not perfect. There are lessons to be learnt for the PJA and its members and we recognise change is needed. This starts with creating facilities that do not require female jockeys to be in the male jockeys’ changing room in order to do their job, but doesn’t stop there.”

The PJA also issued a statement on behalf of a number of female jockeys, which it said wished to remain nameless “having seen the reaction towards anyone who has expressed such views”.

The statement read: “Firstly we would like to reassure everyone that, on the whole, our experiences within the weighing room have been overwhelmingly positive.

“With regards to the hearing involving Robbie following a complaint about his conduct by Bryony, we are really disappointed with the way us and our male colleagues have all been portrayed by the BHA and subsequently reported in the media. From our understanding, what most people are upset about is why no one has spoken up to say they heard anything and why the weighing room ‘turned a blind eye’ to bullying.

Robbie Dunne leaving the British Horseracing Authority Headquarters in London on Thursday
Robbie Dunne leaving the British Horseracing Authority Headquarters in London on Thursday (Yui Mok/PA)

“One thing to consider though is if anyone thinks they heard something but don’t know for sure what was said or genuinely cannot recall, how are they supposed to stand up and be cross examined when they don’t know exactly what happened?

“It is sad that whilst one woman is being praised for speaking her truth, the rest of us have been shamed for doing the same. At no point have we condoned what is alleged to have happened – we just haven’t been able to give any evidence to support it as we don’t have any. If anyone heard anything and has held on to it, they are letting the whole weighing room down and it would be hugely disappointing.

“They (BHA) have let both Bryony and Robbie down by taking so long to deal with this, leaving it festering in the air between colleagues and in the meantime being the ultimate cause of leaks to the press. Finally, they have let us down by calling us and our male friends and colleagues liars and accusing us of turning a blind eye to bullying. You cannot turn a blind eye to something you have not seen.”

Grade One-winning rider David Bass, jumps president of the PJA, said he felt both Frost and Dunne have been let down by the BHA.

“I think it (the handling and timing) has been an absolute disgrace. I have to be careful not to get too emotive about the whole thing. I feel the way it has been handled has been shocking,” Bass told Racing TV.

“There are a lot of bitter and angry people who work in the weighing room and the language which has been used by the representative of the BHA and appeared in the papers is a disgrace.

David Bass is jumps president of the PJA
David Bass is jumps president of the PJA (Nigel French/PA)

“To call our culture rancid is disgraceful. There are certain things you could use rancid for, our facilities would be one, but to target our culture as rancid is not on and it’s very unfair to target the whole weighing room.

“This has nothing to do with Bryony and Robbie, that word has been used to target the whole weighing room. It is grossly unfair.

“None of us are condoning bullying, but to target the whole weighing room with disgusting language is completely unfair.

“As far as help is concerned we have been led poorly by the BHA. We asked for better facilities five years ago and it hasn’t happened. If we’d had better facilities this might never have happened.

“What we need is strong leadership, that is what we are lacking.”

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the BHA, spoke of a “potentially seminal moment for the sport”.

She said: “The first thing I would like to do is praise Bryony Frost for having the courage to come forward and raise her concerns. This was not easy to do, but sport needs brave pioneers such as her if change is ever going to be made.

“The investigation carried out by the BHA and the serious charges brought highlight that there is simply no room for conduct of this nature within our sport. We believe that this is an important moment for our industry.

“We understand that, for the vast majority of those who work in the weighing room it is a positive, supportive, welcoming place, and we express our respect and admiration for the skills and courage of our participants.

“However, in any environment there are inevitably going to be some people who don’t feel comfortable, and there are occasionally going to be times when lines are crossed. It is essential that when something does go wrong that people feel supported in calling it out. We would call on everyone in the industry to recognise this.

“When a line is crossed there must be avenues in place for those affected to call out bad behaviour, and know that they are going to be supported in doing so. That is one of the most important things I want people to take from this whole issue – that it is right and correct to come forward and make your voice heard, and no one should feel threatened or intimidated in doing so.

“This issue is about far more than just what happens in the weighing room. This is potentially a seminal moment for the sport, one where we stand up together and say that conduct of this nature simply cannot be tolerated in any environment.

“How we respond to it as an industry will be extremely important. We have an opportunity now to change the sport for the better.”

Plans agreed to improve and modernise weighing-room facilities

Plans have been announced by the British Horseracing Authority to improve and modernise weighing-room facilities across all British racecourses.

A delegation of jockeys, racecourses and the BHA have been working since March to agree a programme of objectives aimed at meeting the current and future needs of jockeys of all ages and genders.

Weighing rooms and changing-room areas will now be reconfigured in line with the new standards, while some of the upgrades are immediate priorities such as the introduction of key safeguarding measures to provide private changing and shower facilities for jockeys, particularly for under-18s.

The safeguarding changes will be implemented by February 2022, and all racecourse saunas will be permanently closed or removed. Saunas have been out of action since the resumption of racing in June 2020 following the introduction of Covid protocols.

Other adaptations such as private changing and shower facilities, a shared communal rest room, a new communal working space for valets and flexibility to adapt changing room sizes will all be in place by October 2024.

Discussions are also taking place with trainer and jockey representatives about future weight structures. Since the pandemic jockeys have been able to take advantage of additional weight allowances.

BHA chief operating officer Richard Wayman said: “These agreed upgrades are the product of cross-industry collaboration, with jockeys, racecourses and the BHA working together since the beginning of this year.

“The recommendations, which have been endorsed by industry leaders, will deliver substantive improvements to meet the evolving requirements of a modern weighing-room environment, catering not just for today’s human athletes, but also future proofing for the next generation.”

PJA executive director (racing) Dale Gibson said: “Having consulted with our members, the PJA supports the permanent closure of saunas. Eighty-eight per cent of the 190 jockeys who responded to our recent survey voted for their removal, with just eight per cent wanting them to remain.

“The Covid Weight Allowance structure is currently being debated amongst industry representatives, with no immediate changes agreed it is vital that it remains in some shape or form.”

PJA welcomes concussion report

The Professional Jockeys Association has welcomed the publication of a Government report into concussion in sport.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced an inquiry in March of this year to consider links between sport and long-term brain injury, the implications for youth sport and funding for further scientific research.

The inquiry also considered the role of national governing bodies and major sporting organisations, with submissions invited and further evidence and testimony obtained through four oral evidence sessions.

The final ‘Concussion in Sport’ report was released on Thursday morning, with the DCMS committee making a number of key recommendations, including the development of a UK-wide minimum standard definition of concussion to be used across all sport.

The Health and Safety Executive have been told to work with sports governing bodies to set up a new reporting framework for sports injury by July 2022, with sports required to report any event that might lead to an acquired brain injury within a year of that.

The PJA’s chief executive, Paul Struthers, appeared before the committee at one of the oral evidence sessions, and said: “We very much welcome the DCMS inquiry and the recommendations that have been published in their ‘Concussion in Sport’ report today.

“Their recommendations to establish a UK-wide minimum standard definition for concussion that all sports must use and adapt for their sport, a UK wide minimum standard protocol for concussion, a national framework for the reporting of sporting injuries and a single research fund that will coordinate and fund research are particularly important.

“We have been fortunate that racing has been ahead of the game in many ways, thanks to the work of the British Horseracing Authority and its predecessors, and especially racing’s former Chief Medical Adviser Dr Michael Turner and his successor Dr Jerry Hill.

“However, it is vital that we continue to work closely with the BHA and Dr Hill to ensure racing’s protocols, support, education, advice and aftercare continue to be fit for purpose and serve to protect our members as much as possible.

“We also look forward to working with government, Professional Players Federation members and other stakeholders to ensure these recommendations are implemented.”

Ascot funds one-month extension to PJA insurance scheme

Ascot racecourse has agreed to fund a one-month extension of the Professional Jockeys Association’s Career Ending Insurance scheme.

Talks are ongoing with stakeholders in an attempt to find a long-term solution to fund the assistance.

The scheme, which pays out a lump sum should a jockey suffer a career-ending injury, has been traditionally funded by the PJA seeking commercial sponsorship. But for the last two years, funds have come from PJA reserves – assisted for the last six months by a grant from the Horserace Betting Levy Board.

Jon Holmes, Chairman of the PJA, said: “Ascot has always gone above and beyond when it comes to our members. This is yet another example of that, and we are incredibly grateful to everyone at Ascot Racecourse.

“I have been in my role at the PJA since December last year and was surprised to discover that this vital insurance scheme was reliant on commercial sponsorship.

“Our members, the vast majority of whom earn below the national average salary, put their bodies on the line every time they ride – and I share Ascot’s determination to find an industry-funded solution.”

Guy Henderson, chief executive of Ascot, said: “Jockeys of both codes put themselves at risk of serious injury for our entertainment every day. We strongly believe that it is the industry’s responsibility to make sure that there is appropriate protection for them in place in the event of career-ending injury.

“As we approach the end of the 2021 Royal Meeting, I would like to congratulate and thank them all – especially those who had landmark wins, from Frankie Dettori’s 75th to the six who’ve ridden their first.

“As always, we have had unstinting support from all the jockeys this week, in terms of participating in extensive domestic and international media activities and our own press conferences and opening ceremonies.”

PJA expresses dismay at Watson punishment

Jason Watson and the Professional Jockeys Association were left disappointed after the rider’s controversial seven-day riding suspension was reduced to only five days on appeal on Thursday.

Watson spoke on social media of his frustration with the punishment when it was handed out by the stewards at Nottingham, after his ride on the Roger Charlton-trained Noisy Night earlier this month.

Making his debut, the Night Of Thunder colt had veered sharply on leaving the stalls, losing many lengths.

Watson said at the time he had simply looked after his mount as he had lost all chance and felt “victimised” by the stewards’ decision, with the officials ruling the rider was guilty of “failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to ensure Noisy Night was given full opportunity to obtain the best possible placing”.

In a statement following the appeal heard by an independent disciplinary panel, PJA chief executive Paul Struthers said: “We are bitterly disappointed to have lost Jason’s appeal and struggle to understand the decision.

“What does the BHA and the panel say Jason should have done? Did he need to ride hands and heels for half a furlong? A furlong? All the way to the line? Did he need to ride more vigorously than hands and heels?

“We are concerned that the BHA and the judicial panel are applying the rules with their focus on integrity, in circumstances where in Jason’s case everyone agreed he acted in good faith. This was not a ride where integrity was an issue.

“They are also ignoring the myriad shades of grey that exist within racing. Jason’s chance had gone before the race had begun and he then acted in the best interests of the horse. After today’s ruling, how does the judicial panel and BHA say a jockey may act in the best interests of the horse?

“A reduction of a suspension from seven to five days still represents a working week where Jason will be deprived of the chance to earn his living.”

Struthers added: “We referred the panel to a race that had taken place at Newbury three days before the race at Nottingham. Jason rode a two-year-old in that race who caused problems immediately after the start and was subsequently ridden in an almost identical manner.

“The stewards at Newbury did not find him in breach, yet the Nottingham stewards did, even though he was beaten almost twice as far.

“What are jockeys supposed to make of that?”

BHA announces saliva test pilot scheme for riders is under way

A pilot scheme of raceday saliva tests for jockeys to detect cocaine and other banned substances is now under way.

The joint-venture, developed by the British Horseracing Authority and the Professional Jockeys Association, began this week, with tests taken at Kempton on Monday and Lingfield on Tuesday.

Announced in February on the same day as jockey Philip Prince received a six-month suspension following a positive cocaine test, the intention is that oral swabs will be able to quickly indicate the presence of any banned substance, above the existing thresholds, in a rider’s system.

Under the pilot, any jockey who does not test negative would be stood down from riding for the day, with racing set to become the first major sport in Britain to utilise on-the-day screening for banned substances through oral swabs, should the pilot prove successful.

Brant Dunshea, the BHA's chief regulatory officer
Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The BHA said the pilot will continue over a period of two months, “during which time the testing methodology and raceday procedures can be assessed and improved where necessary, prior to a decision being taken as to whether the matrix can be rolled out on a more permanent basis”.

BHA chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea said: “Saliva testing is a progressive next step for our testing and surveillance of prohibited substances. In particular, the fact that it provides near-instant results means that we are now able to screen for the substance on the day of race.

“The fact that it is a more cost-effective methodology will also allow us to significantly ramp up our testing capacity – something that we are supporting further through the allocation of an enhanced testing budget.

“This should serve to act both as a deterrent to those who might consider using prohibited substances and provide reassurance to those who are competing on raceday.”

Benoit de la Sayette notified of positive cocaine test

Apprentice jockey Benoit de la Sayette has tested positive for metabolites of cocaine, the Professional Jockeys Association has announced.

Last month a video circulated on social media claiming to show De la Sayette at a party in the presence of cocaine following his victory on Haqeeqy for his boss, trainer John Gosden, in the Unibet Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on March 27.

The PJA issued a statement on the rider’s behalf denying the allegation and that he “did not and does not take cocaine.”

Subsequently, the British Horseracing Authority arranged to take urine and hair samples from De la Sayette on March 31.

Benoit de la Sayette in winning action at Doncaster aboard Haqeeqy
Benoit de la Sayette in winning action at Doncaster aboard Haqeeqy (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The urine sample returned negative on the same day the test was administered, but the PJA said that on Friday De la Sayette was informed by the BHA that the hair sample had returned positive for metabolites of cocaine.

De la Sayette has now admitted that he had previously taken cocaine and that he had initially not been as forthcoming as he ought to have been to those close to him and advising him, the PJA said, adding he maintains that the circulated video was from October 2019, that he did not take cocaine on that occasion and did not do so after winning the Lincoln.

He was due to ride at Brighton on Saturday, but stood himself down and agreed he would not accept any further rides. He has subsequently been informed by the BHA that he is now suspended from riding pending the conclusion of the disciplinary process, which he will fully co-operate with.

Benoit de la Sayette after riding Haqeeqy to victory in the Lincoln
Benoit de la Sayette after riding Haqeeqy to victory in the Lincoln (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

De la Sayette said in a statement issued by the PJA: “I cannot apologise enough for my actions, both in respect of taking cocaine and of misleading those around me. Earlier this year I moved back home to live with my parents in order to take myself away from an environment where it was present.

“There are no excuses and I am sorry for letting down my family, the team at Clarehaven Stables, Mr Gosden and my colleagues in the weighing room.”

PJA chief executive Paul Struthers said: “Benoit is a very young man who only turned 18 in December 2020. He has made mistakes but the PJA will continue to support him throughout the process.”

PJA slams ‘malicious’ video of Benoit de la Sayette

A video posted online which shows rising star Benoit de la Sayette in the presence of cocaine has been described as “malicious” by the Professional Jockeys Association.

The short clip appeared on an account “purporting” to belong to the rider, who won the Lincoln on board John and Thady Gosden’s Haqeeqy on Saturday – his first ever ride on turf.

While a statement from the PJA confirmed it was De la Sayette in the video, it was allegedly recorded in 2019 when he was just 16, and he strenuously denied ever taking drugs.

The statement read: “A film has been tweeted from an account purporting to be Benoit de la Sayette’s. The film was apparently first circulated in the aftermath of Benoit’s victory aboard Haqeeqy in the Unibet Lincoln at Doncaster on Saturday.

“For the avoidance of doubt, this account is not Benoit’s nor is it under his control. This carefully edited film maliciously suggests that Benoit was taking cocaine after winning the aforementioned race.

“Benoit lives with his parents and was driven to and from Doncaster on Saturday by his father along with another jockey, and spent the evening at home with his parents. He was also riding at Doncaster on Sunday and once again driven there and back by his father.

“The film is actually from October 2019, when he was 16, nine months prior to Benoit being licensed. He was at a party in Lambourn and filmed being in the presence of cocaine that others, not him, were taking. He did not and does not take cocaine.

“Whoever is responsible for the distribution of this film is clearly intent on trying to cause significant damage to a young man at the start of his career. The PJA is taking steps to try and have the account that posted the video removed.”

PJA pledges to protect interests of all members

The Professional Jockeys Association has promised to “protect and support the health and well-being of all its members” amid reports of some unrest in the weighing room.

King George VI Chase winner Bryony Frost alluded to difficulties she was facing following her greatest success in the saddle – and while she has not commented on the specifics, it is believed to stem from an incident at Southwell in September, according to a report in The Times.

A complaint has since been lodged by Frost with the British Horseracing Authority.

Speaking to the media the day after her victory aboard Frodon at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, Frost said: “The more success you have, the more people will frown at you as well as smile with you, so you have to accept it all.

“I’m very lucky I’ve got a supportive team and family around me, and I’m starting to build that bubble in tight.

“I will never change myself because of what some opinions are, as that is not what you are supposed to do.

“As you grow up, you have to remain yourself, and that’s the important thing.”

Paul Struthers, PJA chief executive, said in a statement: “The overwhelming priority of the PJA is to protect and support the health and well-being of all its members, whether on a one-to-one basis, through collective representation or working with other stakeholders in the sport.

“Whilst it would not be appropriate to comment on specific individuals or issues at this time, supporting our members from a pastoral perspective and ensuring appropriate behaviours are responsibilities we take very seriously.”

When contacted, a spokesperson for the British Horseracing Authority said: “The BHA does not comment on ongoing investigations or speculation concerning potential investigations.”

Hollie Doyle stars at the Lesters with three awards

Hollie Doyle’s week to remember continued as she took top honours at the 2020 Lesters Awards on Tuesday, including the Flat Jockey of the Year title.

A ground-breaking third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday, Doyle – who reached 150 winners for the year earlier in the day at Lingfield – was nominated for four Lesters, as the Professional Jockeys Association joined forces with Sky Sports Racing to host a live broadcast of the awards, which celebrate the achievements of jockeys over the previous 12 months.

Doyle also claimed the Female Jockey of the Year prize and the Flat Jockey Special Recognition award – becoming the first female jockey to win Flat Jockey of the Year and only the second jockey ever to win three Lesters in a single year, after Paul Hanagan achieved the same feat in 2010.

Hollie Doyle at the BBBC Sports Personality of the Year awards
Hollie Doyle at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards (Peter Byrne/PA)

Brian Hughes, who won his first jump jockeys’ championship in 2020, was chosen as the Jump Jockey of the Year award recipient – 12 years on from receiving his first Lester for conditional jockey of the year in 2008.

Cieren Fallon and Jonjo O’Neill Jnr received their second career Lesters for Apprentice Jockey of the Year and Conditional Jockey of the Year respectively, each for the second year in a row, following on from becoming champion apprentice and champion conditional.

Sky Sports Racing viewers chose Jack Tudor’s determined ride on Potters Corner in the Welsh National at Chepstow as their Jump Ride of the Year, while Racing TV viewers voted for Dylan Hogan’s audacious front-running ride on Wanaasah at Wolverhampton back in January for the Flat Ride of the Year.

The Jump Jockey Special Recognition award was presented to stalwart of the weighing room and dual Grand National winner Leighton Aspell, who announced his retirement earlier this year. Covid restrictions meant the awards were a virtual affair, with the winners unable to receive their coveted trophies in the studio.

Leighton Aspell celebrates Grand National glory aboard Many Clouds
Leighton Aspell celebrates Grand National glory aboard Many Clouds (Mike Egerton/PA)

The final award of the year saw a rare honorary Lester presented to Dr Jerry Hill, the BHA chief medical adviser.

The Presidents’ Special Award was a thank you to Dr Hill from PJA presidents Richard Johnson and PJ McDonald, on behalf of all PJA members, in recognition and appreciation of his tireless efforts this year helping racing to overcome the incredible challenges brought on from the Covid-19 pandemic.

He becomes just the second person to be given an honorary Lester who was not themselves a jockey or worked for the PJA, the only other being Sir Peter O’Sullevan.

Paul Struthers, chief executive of the PJA, said: “The Lesters are always a special occasion and in the absence of being able to hold an actual ceremony we can’t thank Sky Sports Racing enough for agreeing to host this live special as well as Racing TV for assisting us with the rides of the year footage.

“We’re delighted for all the winners and hope it clearly demonstrates to them the regard and esteem in which they are held by their peers. Hollie’s achievement in becoming only the second jockey in Lesters history to win three awards in a year, and becoming the first female jockey to be crowned Flat Jockey of the Year, should not be downplayed.

“We were also delighted to be able to recognise Jerry’s work through the Special Presidents Award. As well as overseeing improvements in the medical care of jockeys, including the expansion of on-course physiotherapy and offering one-to-one advice and support to jockeys who are hospitalised, his tireless and ongoing efforts to get us back racing whilst ensuring the health and safety of the sports participants, hasn’t gone unnoticed by our members and this was their way of saying thank you.”