|Race analysts and
bookmakers insist more questions should be asked of trainers and
Stewards are not doing
enough to clamp down on non-triers in jump races, according to veteran race
analysts and the representative of one of Britain's major bookmakers. Though
the problem is long-standing, there is frustration at the apparent reluctance
of stewards and officials at the British Horseracing Authority to ask questions
of trainers and jockeys.
The issue was highlighted at the start of the
core jumps season when Timeform, the respected ratings organisation, included
an essay on the subject in its Chasers & Hurdlers annual. The unbylined
piece declared that: "The rules requiring horses to be ridden on their merits
are regularly flouted
At times nowadays, at some of the more far-flung
outposts of jump racing, it seems as if [stewards] are hardly applying [the
rules] at all."
That remains Timeform's view, according to Simon
Walker, their head of editorial. "There are plenty on a weekly basis that we
suspect aren't running on their merits, but then there's nothing new in that,"
he said on Wednesday. .
In common with all media outlets, Timeform are
constrained by the libel laws from making specific accusations of non-trying. A
race analyst's opinion, however strongly held, does not constitute proof.
Simon Clare, director of
communications at Coral, is concerned about horses who are allowed to be
uncompetitive early in their career. "It's still part of the culture of jump
racing that horses in a race are sometimes being given an education," he says.
"It's part of their progression, an easy race, a nice introduction, we don't
want to be too hard on him that's the attitude.
aren't necessarily being laid to lose but people, when they're privy to that
sort of information, can whittle a race down to one or two live runners. Not
enough is being done to stop that. We need to ensure that jump racing is
competitive and that the participants are there to do themselves justice. We're
not expecting every horse to be whipped or anything like that but we can't get
into the situation where it becomes acceptable to use the racecourse as a
David Cleary, a long-serving race analyst and former
editor of Chasers & Hurdlers, is more worried about "horses of established
merit who have clear chances on form and yet who apparently underperform
without any valid explanation offered". He feels there are "several" cases each
week. Asked if stewards are doing enough to seek explanations when this
happens, Cleary says: "I don't think they are but that seems to come down from
the BHA. I think there are people on the BHA side who are aware of what is
going on but there needs to be a will to tackle this thing."
concerns are shared by Jonathan Neesom, another experienced race-reader now
working as an expert on Racing UK. Of the stewards and the BHA, he says: "They
don't seem to want to make too much of a fuss. They are garnering some success
through clobbering people who have been laying horses on Betfair but there
appear to be so few inquiries into running and riding these days.
suppose they're thinking that it's a lot harder to prove skulduggery in terms
of horses not producing their best efforts. They're probably thinking that
they're always at risk of litigation."
Jamie Stier, the BHA's head of
raceday regulation, was on annual leave and unavailable for comment. A BHA
spokesman, John Maxse, said: "Unless it is a blatant case, which are now few
and far between, whether a horse has been run on its merits is a subjective
"It should also be pointed out that the absence of an inquiry
on the day does not mean the run of a particular horse has gone unnoticed.
"Supporting the racecourse stewards are a team of BHA handicappers who
review the races and there is also a monitoring team at the BHA offices, who
watch the races in conjunction with the relevant betting patterns."
addition, there are systems in place, such as automatic inquiries when a horse
wins a race without having previously been placed, which enable earlier runs to
be subject to review when a horse has shown improved form. Finally, the runs of
individual horses will always be reviewed if specifically brought to the
attention of BHA."
But, as was noted in Chasers & Hurdlers, the
last case in which connections were charged after officials pored over a
horse's previous runs was that of Celtic Son, seven years ago.
within racing quietly agree with trainer Barry Hills, reported to have said, on
retiring from the sport last year: "Don't police it too much it wants a
bit of skulduggery".
Cleary rejects this. "That sort of attitude still
exists in racing and people think it's all right because it's the bookies who
are being hit," he says. "But in fact it's the punters who are being hit and
it's the trainers of horses who are being campaigned honestly and openly who
are being hit. That's why something needs to be done."
also prefer better regulation but adds: "I do think the game is relatively
straight, given how much it costs to keep a horse. There are ways of getting it
handicapped without cheating.
"You just run it over the wrong trip or
on the wrong ground, at the wrong course or with the wrong riding tactics and
you leave it to punters to see through that. As long as the horse is ridden
vigorously, there's nothing wrong with that, it's part of the game. There's a
certain amount of gamesmanship but how else are you supposed to get a horse
back to its right handicap mark?"