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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.”