In a previous ‘piece’, engagingly titled ‘Pinback Your Lugholes A Solution Is On Its Way’, I proposed the notion that instead of jockeys being banned for whip offences a period of prohibition should be imposed where a jockey is disqualified from using a whip in earnest during a race for a period of four days. Now I wish to discuss offences that I believe do warrant suspension from the sport.
My inherent sense of fair play leads me to believe, perhaps naively, that a jockey would never cause interference during a race with the intent of causing harm to one of his colleagues. In the early days of the sport this was not the case and there were races in which contestants had licence to impede their rivals. These races were called ‘cross and jostle’ and were much preferred by owners when big money bets were laid.
Before the advent of patrol and head-on cameras and t.v. coverage, and during a time when jockeys were considered no better than servants hired for the half-hour, it was expected by connections for jockeys to do all in their powers to impede their rivals. Tactics such as attempting to put a rival over the running rail and use of an elbow to unbalance a rival in a tight finish are, I hope, things of the past.
We are, though, all human and plagued occasionally by human frailty. We all make mistakes in our everyday lives. When driving any one of us may cross the white line at a junction causing a fellow driver to swerve in order to prevent a possible collision. Or we may fail to indicate when pulling out of a parking space. We do not consciously set out to cause difficulty or to scare the bejabbers out of our fellow man and if drivers were dealt with in a similar manner to the way stewards’ deal with the misdemeanours of jockeys there would be a lot less cars on the road due to a plethora of temporary suspensions of driver’s licences. Perhaps an idea worth exploring, though not on these pages.
Jockeys, of course, should be held responsible for calamitous errors of judgements that have dire effects on others, and I don’t necessarily mean punters.
In 1988, in one of the worst decisions ever made by stewards’ on a British racecourse, Royal Gait was demoted to last place after proving a runaway winner of the Ascot Gold Cup. His owner and trainer were denied both the distinction of being presented with the Cup by Her Majesty and lost the large amount of prize money by a calamitous riding misjudgement by Cash Asmussen that led to Tony Clark being unseated from El Conquistador. The horse won by six lengths and fifteen and was clearly the winner on merit. Asmussen should have received a lengthy ban but instead the punishment was shared by the owner, trainer and stable staff, all of whom played no part in Asmussen’s decision to go for a gap he had no right to enter. Manoeuvres that cause such consequences deserve bans totalling weeks not days.
Asmussen did not consciously make the decision to deposit Clark on to the Ascot turf and the fact that neither jockey nor horse were injured in the spill should have had no bearing on the length of suspension the jockey receives. His manoeuvre was no different to when you or I pull out from a parking space into the line of traffic without either looking or indicating our intention. There is no defence, no arguing where the blame lies.
But there are worse offences. Jockeys who bring the sport into disrepute, for example, should receive suspensions from the sport that hurt both the reputation and the pocket, though every case should be treated on its individual merits. Jockeys who are paid to pull a horse should, of course, have the book thrown at them. A heavy book, thrown by someone with a particularly good aim. Jockeys who drop their hands prematurely, though, should be treated more kindly as such mistakes are due to human error and the ridicule they receive should be punishment enough. And, of course, in such cases there are no real losers as the horse promoted to first place by the ‘winning’ jockeys’ error will be winning punters money in the same way as the unlucky loser would have done.
I dare say if you ask any of the top jockeys they would all admit to making errors occasionally that meant the difference between victory and defeat. Dropping their hands to give their mounts as easy a time as possible is no worse an error of jockeyship as making their effort too early or too late or asking their mount to shorten going into the final fence rather than allowing the horse to come up in its stride and losing lengths.
Generally speaking jockeys are magnificent and industrious. Occasionally they err. At the moment penalties for erring are all over the place. Give a horse an ‘easy race’, even for the sole benefit of the horse, can incur a suspension of fourteen, twenty or thirty days. Yet over use of the whip, which people outside of the sport would deem an act of selfish cruelty, would only incur a suspension of four days.
But now I have brought my argument full circle. Bans do not work. Bans should be reserved for deliberate acts that bring the sport into disrepute.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.