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Horse Racing Is Losing The Battle On Every Front

Diarmuid Nolan for Bookies.com

Diarmuid Nolan  | 9 mins

Horse Racing Is Losing The Battle On Every Front

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Constants in life are hard to find, but they are immeasurably comforting.

In a world where everything changes so rapidly, clinging onto these familiarities is what can keep us going, even on the toughest of days.

Horse Racing has always been a metaphorical comfort blanket to many, and it offered a superb outlet during the daily struggles of the coronavirus in particular. The sport of kings was perfectly set up to return after the first lockdown, and it did so with aplomb.

Horse Racing covered itself in glory with how it collectively managed the intricacies of Covid-19 and we basked in a real feel good factor for many months. The public needed a sport to watch, and horse racing was there to offer a helping hand.

Since then though this collective goodwill has been collapsing, and of late I’m really struggling to defend a sport that I love so much.

Horse Racing is in a perpetual pursuit of media coverage, but lately we’ve been in the press for all the wrong reasons. We are under attack from all angles, but the people who should be defending the sport are instead dealing it blows it may not ever recover from. How did we get to this dreadful point?

Is Horse Racing Dunne?

Bryony's Frost's bullying case has been underway for over a week or so now, and really we haven't learned anything new since I first wrote on the topic a few weeks ago.

Bryony's account is harrowing, but apart from one staff member at Stratford she is struggling for witnesses as the weighing room is refusing to take her side. Robbie Dunne's case seems to revolve around her deserving the abuse she got, and the people testifying for him are vague in every detail except for how little time they seem to have for Miss Frost.

While this does feel like a typical whistle-blower case in that the person who has reported wrongdoing is being destroyed by those around them, I’m best to just reiterate what I said in a previous article on this situation, and this is that our opinions on the case simply do not matter.

We are not on the judging panel, and we weren’t there so in truth we are just speculating if we try to make a conclusion either way. Deciding whether Dunne is guilty or not is thankfully not a job of ours.

Saying this, it’s not the task of racing people either. I have found it utterly depressing the last few days as jockeys, trainers and even their families are coming out to try to silence this case, despite the fact that the vast majority of these people were not present as the bullying was meant to have occurred either.

They keep churning out variations of statements that revolve around the "fact" that “back in their day” this was normal and that jockeys argued viciously all the time. This complaint from Frost is clearly not a case of a one-off bollocking being taken out of context, however.

We are in the 21st century and working standards have improved for the better, why can’t these people see that? What was ok in the 1960’s is not ok now, I thought that statement was a given, but clearly not in Horse Racing circles.

Did AP McCoy really think his tweet clearly choosing a side in this sorry ordeal was discreet as for its intention? I’ve taken punches that were more subtle that that. Did Diana Hobbs really think she was helping anyone by tweeting that she wanted this case thrown out?

AP McCoy in particular was extremely disappointing to me as a racing fan of many years who would have marvelled at him on occasion as you would expect. Sir Anthony McCoy is meant to be a knight of the realm, and somebody in such a position should not be seen surely to be picking sides in a bullying case as sensitive as this. It was a shocking tweet, however subtle or not in it's delivery, that directly involves an ongoing case and he should be extremely ashamed of his actions. He is a hero to so many and one of the few in the sport who is recognisable outside of horse racing’s bubble, this seems to deliver more damage than assistance?

Racing people like AP McCoy seem to think they are saving horse racing by challenging Bryony Frost's case, but they are actually causing the sport immense damage.

In the age of #MeToo, and the rightful focus on equal rights to all, how can racing people be so stupid as to not understand how the outside world will see this as a shocking attempt to silence a young female jockey’s bullying complaint? How can they not see that this looks to everyone like bullying on top of bullying?

While it is possible AP McCoy tweeted this innocently and just got his timing badly wrong, I understandably have my doubts that he could make such a mistake with such a big case ongoing. I think it's fair to assume he is making a pointed statement against Frost and it definitely wasn't subtle.

Diana Hobbs' tweet was also disheartening to read. Whilst her tweet will appear ridiculous to some, to others it may seem exactly what they would like to say, the difference is if you are a bystander, not called to opine then why do so - who are you to get involved with two people going through a hugely difficult due process?

Bryony Frost clearly had no faith in her fellow jockeys sorting this out so she took the extraordinary step of reporting it to the powers that be. Telling her now to sort it out "privately" is just idiotic. It's gone well beyond that point.

Racing has been dining off Rachael Blackmore’s rise to fame, and many people in the sport shout aloud about the fact that we are rare in that men and women compete off level terms, and the fairer sex come out the better of the argument quite regularly.

The embarrassingly childish response evoked from this case from some jockeys, and a plethora of people in racing, make the sport look like an old mans club from yesteryear, and this is publicly destroying the sports image.

Horse Racing in the UK is struggling for sponsors, so how can they not understand that looking sexist is not advisable?

Both Bryony Frost and Robbie Dunne deserve their case to be heard, and the sport's stakeholders responding as they have been is so problematic. The BHA are the real villains of the piece as this case should be sorted by now, but the sport's internal players have been awful.

We weren't meant to pick sides. We weren't meant to try to destroy either Dunne or Frost. The whole saga is so depressing, and it's hard to have any faith in anyone to sort it out.

Bryony Frost is clearly not popular with her peers, but this doesn't matter in the context of this case. Bullying tends to happen to those who aren't popular, and she deserves her case to be heard without outside interference.

Why won't racing people just shut up and let that happen?

A Lack Of Support To Horse Racing

The reason I find the sport shooting itself in the face so sad is that at this moment there is nobody of actual consequence fighting for Horse Racing.

In the UK every facet of the sport seems to be struggling, and in Ireland horse racing seems to lose out with every Covid decision made. GAA and Rugby for example had crowds back long before horse racing did, and at Christmas Leopardstown looks like it will be one of the main losers when it comes to crowd sizes.

The Irish Times reported that "Irish Racing’s authorities are working to finalise arrangements, but provision for a similar capacity limit to the 4,000 allowed at Leopardstown’s ‘Irish Champions Weekend’ date in September hasn’t been ruled out."

Only 4,000 people are allowed at a facility the size of Leopardstown? Munster will have many more than that for their rugby matches at Thomond Park in respect to the size of the stadium in question, as will GAA club games.

Covid has to be taken seriously and any decision made to preserve human life is the right one, but it has to be fair, and our sport doesn't get a fair shake at times.

Horse Racing in this country keeps losing out as nobody is fighting for it. Nobody is really fighting on a government level in the UK either, and this bullying case is another PR disaster nobody needs.

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A Sorry Conclusion

You can only be worried about the future of our sport when you consider that as well as the above tales of woe, over the last week or two newspapers have been full of negative racing stories.

We currently have the ongoing and very sad case between Freddy Tylicki and Graham Gibbons, the owner publicly taking on Dan Skelton over exorbitant fees spent on a dud racehorse that he may have partly owned, the fact that French trainer Cedric Rossi who guided Sealiway to win one of English racing's most prestigious races in October was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of doping horses, and of course, the attempted drugs raid in Ireland on an external yard which contained racehorses.

None of this reads well for an already beleaguered sport.

We need Horse Racing to stand together, and to show that it is facing up to its issues and attempting to grow past them, but we are being let down by those who should be leading the way. Too many important people in the sport are stuck in the past, and they simply need to grow up, and realise working standards are different in 2021. They are trying to intervene in a bullying case rather than sort out what really matters and it's extremely perturbing to watch.

These people are not saving the sport like they think, they are actually damaging it beyond repair.

Everyone needs to let justice take its course and accept the results either way whatever they currently think of the process. After this though we need to fix what is a broken sport, or we surely risk losing it forever.

About the Author

Diarmuid Nolan for Bookies.com
Diarmuid Nolan
Diarmuid Nolan is a horse racing journalist & creator of the #racehour community on Twitter which also produces a weekly podcast during the jumps season. A passionate Leeds fan, and a keen follower of all thing’s Kerry GAA, sports, media & politics.