One of our owners sent me an email recently pointing out a ride on the all-weather. I had a close look at it and I thought that without any doubt it was a blatant example of a horse being pulled. I’m not prepared to name the horse, jockey or trainer, but I definitely agree with a comment by Graham Cunningham recently on Channel 4’s Morning Line, in the context of Andrew Heffernan’s 15-year ban, that we now appear to have an integrity problem with low-quality all-weather racing. Indeed, he asked, “Is it worth the bother?”
A friend of mine up in the North of England has a wonderful Victorian stylised painting entitled “The Road to Righteousness and Salvation”. It shows a couple going through a gate at the foot of the painting. They are then confronted with two alternative roads to follow. One takes them up through the foothills of godliness into the kingdom of Heaven, while the other leads to eternal damnation. They are faced with ten temptations, at each of which they could divert from the straight and narrow way. The reason why this painting is always pointed out to me is that the first trial is to do with “cursing and use of strong language”, the second, “partaking of alcoholic liquor”, and the third, “gambling”. Well, that certainly damns the 70,000 or so who will be at the Cheltenham Festival in a few weeks’ time. By the way, the other seven temptations aren’t bad either.
So this had me wondering what ten “temptations” might be on the All-Weather, and why this is becoming an ethical concern.
- Trainer deliberately runs the horse down the weights into a 0-55 race.
- Keep the horse unfit and not able to perform satisfactorily.
- Put on a claiming rider with no strength, who can’t ride one side of the horse never mind
- Run it over the wrong trip.
- Run it on the wrong A/W surface.
- Put on or leave off headgear, depending on what the horse actually needs.
- Come out of the gate slowly and get boxed in.
- Alternatively, run it really wide on all the bends.
- Dope it.
- Pull it.
Nine of these appear to be becoming more common. Alas, it is hardly surprising with the lamentable state of prize money. The only way many small trainers and their owners can secure any sort of return on investment is to land a touch, and with the quality of much of the all-weather racing it has become the obvious target. What needs to be done about it? Personally I’d like to see much higher scrutiny of the performance of certain trainers and jockeys, and for that to be reflected in the readiness or otherwise to reduce official ratings. And obviously, a big increase in prize-money is essential, otherwise there will be more people in the racing fraternity departing from “The Road to Righteousness”.