The stewarding of the interference rules has to change before there is a tragedy
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, if this video doesn’t hammer home to you why the stewarding of interference in British and Irish racing needs to be addressed as a matter of priority, no words will.
What this video shows is just a sample of particularly shocking consequences of careless riding in Britain and Ireland. It also shines a light on the wholly inadequate and lenient stewarding of such incidents that has enabled a rough-riding culture to develop in those jurisdictions.
All of these incidents took place in the last two years, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. I found at least 14 cases of severe interference that resulted in falls during that time period in Britain and Ireland. Unfortunately, nine of them happened at tracks that attheraces.com do not have permission to use footage from and thus they couldn’t be included in the above video.
Mercifully, the injuries suffered by the jockeys involved in those incidents were limited to concussions and broken bones. However, every time a jockey hits the ground in a race, the danger of them suffering far more severe injuries or worse is clear.
Dreadful incidents such as these are a relative rarity, but the threat of them is ever present. Examples of the casual carelessness that has been allowed to become part of race riding on British and Irish racecourses can be seen every day. While most of these lesser incidents of avoidable interference may not have dramatic consequences, they very much have the potential to do so.
Highlighting cases like these does not intend to shame the jockeys that are involved in them. Jockeys would never set out to do harm to a weighing room colleague, but they are fierce competitors. If the stewarding of interference doesn’t offer a real and consistent deterrent against them riding aggressively, closing gaps and leaning on their opposition, many of them will do so to increase their chances of winning.
And who can blame them? It isn’t the jockey’s job to set the line of what is and isn’t acceptable riding.
That is the job of the regulator that sets the rules and the stewards that enforce them. That they choose to be so obscenely weak in that task has served to make aggressive riding an option and almost an expectation for jockeys when things get really tight. This is precisely why we end up with shocking incidents such as those in the above video.
To be clear, the rules themselves are not the problem. Below is the wording of the Category 1 interference rules and the associated punishment guidelines for British and Irish racing.
The problem is that the rules are clearly not being sufficiently and consistently enforced in line with these definitions and guidelines. All of the incidents in the above video could and should have attracted much more severe penalties based on the wording of the rules and punishment guidelines. Indeed, some of them could have been judged to be dangerous riding.
However, in the last two years that this video covers, there has only been one verdict of dangerous riding passed down in Ireland that held up to the appeal process. That was a very nasty incident at Cork in August 2019 in which jockey Donogh O’Connor suffered a fractured neck.
Remarkably, a finding of dangerous riding has been even rarer in Britain. As hard as it is to believe, only one rider has been found guilty of dangerous riding in Britain since the beginning of 2004, Tony Culhane for his ride aboard Mazzola at Newcastle on August 31st 2009. Such infrequent and inadequate application of the dangerous riding rule sums up the stewarding of interference in Britain and Ireland.
What makes the unwillingness of the regulatory bodies in Britain and Ireland to address the enforcement of the interference rules so puzzling is that the current situation is quite literally in no one’s best interests.
First and foremost, it puts jockeys at unnecessarily increased risk every day and the safety of the human participants should always be at the forefront of all considerations. From the perspective of trainers, owners and the racing public, no one wants to see results being unfairly affected and/or horses being put in danger by avoidable interference. Even if the horses that are interfered with avoid injury, the mental scars of a bad experience can linger.
It is also worth emphasising the horse welfare angle to this issue. It has become clear that horse welfare and the public perception of it is going to be one of the biggest challenges that horse racing faces in the years ahead. It doesn’t take a great amount of foresight to anticipate the impact that the dramatic injury or death of a horse in an incident caused by careless/dangerous riding on a high-profile stage could have on racing’s reputation. It is a sad reality of modern society that the death of a horse in such circumstances is certain to generate far more public outcry than the death of a jockey in a racing incident.
Considering all of this, the lack of action that the BHA and IHRB have taken with regard to the interference rules compared to the hard line they have taken on the whip is a contradiction that has to be highlighted.
The modern whip is not a welfare issue in racing, yet the regulators in Britain and Ireland have gone to war with the jockeys to rein in its use almost solely for reasons of public perception. In contrast, interference very much can and has had catastrophic consequences for both jockeys and horses, yet it remains unaddressed. This makes no sense.
Now is the time for urgent action
Thus, the proposal is a simple one. The BHA and IHRB are asked to review and overhaul the guidelines they give raceday stewards on how to enforce the interference rules. At a minimum, punishments for careless riding offences should be increased to at least double their current levels. Even more importantly, the dangerous riding rule has to be applied with much more rigour and consistency where appropriate.
It goes without saying that risk can never be eliminated. These are racehorses, not motorcars. Sometimes they will make movements that their riders couldn’t have reasonably anticipated and this should be accounted for in stewarding. However, it is important that the standard of care that is expected of jockeys is raised. Much tougher punishments will have an overnight impact on jockey behaviour as there will finally be an appropriate deterrent against the rough and careless riding that has become so worryingly common in British and Irish racing.
This call for action is particularly urgent with regard to Irish racing. There are approximately three times as many runners every year in Britain as there is in Ireland. Yet, when researching particularly bad examples of interference for the above video, I found twice as many such cases in Ireland as in Britain. As worrying as the situation is with regard to the policing of interference in Britain, it is notably worse in Ireland.
There is nothing remotely revolutionary or radical about these proposals. The BHA and IHRB are simply being asked to step into line with the rest of the racing world. It is a shameful reality that the leniency with which British and Irish stewards deal with interference stands out like a broken thumb amongst leading racing jurisdictions around the world.
No one wants to see jockeys getting long bans. Ultimately, they have to put food on their tables and sometimes their biggest flaw is simply wanting to win too much. It would be an instinctive and understandable reaction for jockeys to object to any proposal that might put them at risk of longer bans.
However, one can only hope that they can step back and see the bigger picture of the positive impact that such action would have on long-term safety of their profession. Race riding is fundamentally dangerous enough without making it more so by enforcing the interference rules so weakly.
In Formula 1 motor racing, it took the tragic deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in racing accidents on consecutive days for the regulators of that sport to realise their safety standards needed to be addressed as a matter of the highest priority. It will be unforgivable if it takes a tragedy caused by avoidable interference in British or Irish racing to make the racing authorities realise the danger that their weak enforcement of the interference rules puts jockeys in every day.
Racing in Britain and Ireland has many very serious issues at hand, but very few of them could be solved as quickly and easily as this one if the will is there among the regulators to implement change. It could be remedied overnight at zero cost.
In an effort to test how much support there is across the industry for this proposed clampdown on careless riding, I sent this article and the associated video to a small group of highly-respected individuals in the sport and asked if they would be willing to offer their full support to the proposal. The following is a list of those that wanted to make their support for it known:
- Aidan O’Brien
- AP McCoy
- Jamie Spencer
- John Oxx
- Joseph O’Brien
- Michael Kinane
- Oisin Murphy
- Pat Smullen
These are all world-renowned professionals with vast experience of both domestic and international racing at the very highest level. None of them are known for seeking out confrontation or attention on racing issues. Yet, they feel so strongly about the stewarding of interference in Britain and Ireland that they wanted to make their support for change known publicly. Their endorsements are more powerful than any words.
Enough is enough. Now is the time for the BHA and IHRB to act before it is too late.