This famous statement has been regurgitated lavishly since the seventies by political satirists, documenting the moment US President Richard Nixon declared he wasn’t a crook. Because he said he wasn’t, he expected the people of America and the world to believe him… he was after all leader of the ‘free world’. Richard Nixon genuinely believed it was within his right to change the laws and – more astonishingly to the public – that he was above them.
Before I get into the heat of today’s enflamed topic I need to highlight a few things about racing and, well, me. My passionate view of racing overflows at every moment, whether it’s the posters of Kauto Star on my wall or the lock screen of the Grand National on my phone. Every family friend remembers and my parents are still frequently asked “Is he still into that horse racing?”. Ever since I was young I knew I wanted to work in the industry, from jockey to trainer to journalist. Today has been the first day I’ve questioned if that’s still the case.
I’m eighteen. You can suggest the following article is written by an innocent, naïve and unenlightened teenager who has no common sense when it comes to the ‘real world’. But I simply ask you this; do you want to live in a world where dishonesty is acceptable?
Jim Best is renowned for being a gambling yard. You can’t really look two ways about it when this article quotes him affirming the statement “We did land a few gambles and that’s what the owners wanted” before explaining how he would typically go about it “Get him rated 85 and you might be able to win three or four handicaps before they get to you”. The unspecified third person plural pronoun ‘they’, who Best was originally deceiving, would happen to refer to the handicapper – the ‘judge’ in horse racing who ensures it’s always a level playing field.
So when an incident such as Saint Helena’s on Wednesday at Southwell turns up it’s difficult to look more than one way about it. The public, and apparently the stewards according to their report available here felt that the improvement was inconceivable on the form evidence available – the horse had been beaten a total of 228 lengths on it’s past three starts. Its starting prices on those occasions were 150/1, 50/1 and 80/1 respectively. These races were all ran over soft, good to soft and good conditions over 2m and 2m1f (3200m, 3400m). Much to the surprise of the formbook, Saint Helena was the winner of the 32Red Casino Handicap Hurdle at a price of 11/10f, with a late jockey change another notable feature.
Conclusions will be jumped to by everyone and unfortunately in racing, as this seems to happen often, it’s difficult not to concur on the evidence above. There’s nothing to suggest improvement was likely to the public but the SP suggests there’s clearly improvement expected in private.
Is it fair? To the betting public the usual outrage of sore pockets will stream through social media, betting shops and public houses. Many will be upset that they have staked their own money, fairly and by the book on what form and knowledge is available to them. Is it fair to hide information from horse racing’s loyal and essential followers, whether they be an avid fan, like me, or a weekend Saturday punter?
Unfortunately the more important externality of these situations is horse racing’s integrity. Our sport already sits not on a perfect pedestal, but the naughty bottom step of the sport ladder, where it’s labelled, stereotyped and back paged. This is reality. Talk to a non-racing friend or just take a quick look at BBC Sport to confirm my statement – it’ll show you how horse racing features only as a sub-heading under the ‘All Sports’ tab and, even worse, the prominent news articles feature negative reports rather than what we know horse racing is capable of. So if we’re struggling and desperately trying to claw our way to the top, why are we allowing dishonesty to go unpunished? “Join our sport, if you’re not in the ‘in’ crowd though, you’re scuppered” isn’t a slogan I hear Great British Racing wanting to present.
The handicapping system breeds dishonesty and honest horses running on merit every time are punished – and by extension, so are their owners’ and trainers’. I can’t change the way the Stewards’ work or how the system develops at the moment, but I wouldn’t discount it if ever given the opportunity. But what we can do is as media outlets try to change the way outsiders see our sport and attempt to break down the opaque wall for something far more translucent. The following quote not only solidifies the wall but also alienates people who want to play by the rules. I want a sport that plays by the rules.
“This concept that every horse must run absolutely on its merits. It must be fully fit. The public must be told (if it’s had a breathing operation) or any other medical treatment.
It’s kind of a nonsense.”
(BetRacingNation TV Wednesday 3rd September – view here)
The irresponsible comment is not only obscene to any law-abiding citizen (if used in a real life situation), but actually cancerous coming from the mouth of an apparent racing expert good enough to put on television. The TV show boasts excellent viewing figures so the damage done by the flippant guest has leaked into the viewers’ heads like a malignant mace. Unless the viewers have already formed a strong opposing opinion, what’s stopping them from agreeing with the guest on the apparent ‘acceptable dishonesty’ in horse racing? What’s stopping them from moving away from ‘crooked’ horse racing as a result? We’re not even attempting the weak defence put up by Nixon, we’re saying: “Here’s Horse Racing: We Are Crooks”. I don’t think I’m being naïve or looking for the implausible perfect world when I say I don’t think horse racing is crooked. It’s twisted, not broken.
The guest went on to say “There’s this concept that if we had every tiny bit of information on every horse; wind ops, treatments, everything like that, that it would benefit us as punters. And it wouldn’t.”
This is clearly similar to many scenarios in our country; for example when defendants are put on trial without all the evidence being made available or how surgeons perform operations without prior knowledge of their patient. The idea is preposterous to say the least in an information-intense world where everyone is looking for the ‘inside edge’, whether it’s in horse racing or not. I don’t believe this comment is representative of the entire racing media, but when it comes from a source with the ability to influence race-goers, it needs to be taken seriously.
The integrity of racing is essential to its survival and destructive people in positions of power need to accept their responsibility in that position or simply step away from the spotlight. Racing has had enough scandals smeared all over the non-racing media pages lately, why is the racing media attempting to kindle its own fierce fire?