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The BHA Are In A Mess Of Their Own Making

Diarmuid Nolan for Bookies.com

Diarmuid Nolan  | 8 mins

The BHA Are In A Mess Of Their Own Making

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The past few days in horse racing have shown us the utterly sublime, and unfortunately, the downright ridiculous and shameful.

In a week where we should be shouting from the rooftops about the successful return of potential superstar Envoi Allen, and a big win for the loveable Frodon at Down Royal (both ridden by female jockeys), we find ourselves enmeshed in a bullying scandal that could well prove to be yet another public relations ordeal for an already beleaguered sport.

For those of you who may have somehow missed it, Bryony Frost has accused Robbie Dunne of a relentless bullying campaign. To add insult to injury, the 200-page “confidential” report into the case was leaked to the Sunday Times, and naturally it makes for very grim reading.

The accusations seem endless in the dossier with Dunne being accused of threatening to put Frost through a rail, promising “to hurt her” and allegedly parading naked in front of the young jockey to seemingly intimidate her. Whilst racing has been battling saga after saga for at least a year now, this latest mess is potentially the most problematic.

Horse Racing has its problems of course, but we have been able to loudly boast about how we are an “equal opportunities” sport where men and women compete off level terms, and to our collective glee the fairer sex are getting the better of the argument lately on the biggest stages.

This case, however, drops racing right back into the dark ages, and unfortunately the sport is not rising to the challenge. As observers, it is not our job to pick a side in this debacle, this is the task of the authorities, but we must respond to what has been a shameful process and extremely troubling press coverage.

Befuddled BHA

The BHA (British Horse Racing Authority) should be utterly ashamed of how they have handled this case. It has been an embarrassing disaster for all concerned. Just a few months ago the BHA’s tea and crumpets were still warm as they sprung into dramatic action to ban Gordon Elliott from Cheltenham as those sorry photographs began to emerge.

They jumped on that case with ferocious haste to score some easy PR points, yet they kept quiet about how they were in the middle of scoring own goal after own goal with their handling of this extremely sensitive bullying accusation.

Why did it take the BHA fifteen minutes to ban Gordon Elliott, but thirteen months to deal with this bullying case? It's insane.

After this time the findings are still not properly public as we have to remember this report was leaked, not published. The BHA are now trying to find out who leaked the document, and I’d suggest in an organisation so poorly managed that this is akin to attempting to catch smoke with your bare hands.

I understand this is unfamiliar territory for all concerned as an individual has never before brought a case forward like this, and I also get how they have clearly struggled to get evidence as the jockeys who may have witnessed these events have pleaded the fifth. Nonetheless, this has been a sorry ordeal.

Simply put, they have badly let down both jockeys, and their respective careers have been massively affected.

Robbie Dunne publicly mounts his first horse at a racecourse on Tuesday since August, and Bryony Frost had nearly 40 less rides in October 2021 as she had in the same period last year.

The leaked report from the BHA concluded in April that Frost’s complaints were accepted to have met the evidential burden and that Robbie Dunne will face charges. Why are we now in November and nothing has seemingly been done? Despite the BHA ruling that she was correct in her accusation, Frost is continuing to suffer because of their mismanagement.

In any other walk of life if a HR department took 13 months to resolve a serious bullying issue they would be out of a job. How could the BHA let this happen?

Shameful Coverage

I find the most troubling aspect of this whole ordeal is the coverage. I despise how sections of the Horse Racing public can trample on horse racing journalists with fervent glee, and generally I put this abuse down to jealousy. Most of us want to write about the sport we love for a living, and some writers can get a raw deal as a result! On the most part I think the likes of the Racing Post do a particularly good job at representing our sport, and is full of excellent, and very decent people.

However, I have found some of the coverage of this case extremely troubling, and it feels like a choreographed campaign against Frost. We seem to keep hearing about how amazing the different weighing rooms have been throughout the years, but each article has its own glaring issues. They surely cannot expect us to believe that with thousands of different people passing through the weighing room, there has never been bullying?

Paul Hanagan was one of the first to stick his head above the parapet saying he knew how horrible bullying is because he experienced it as a child, but then seemed to dismiss this ordeal as a misunderstanding. He would not have been in this weighing room so I do not see how he can comment on this case. It was absolute biased nonsense.

Hayley Turner’s article was similarly full of bluster and lacking any real detail, and while it can be easily dismissed as she said herself she does not know anything about the Dunne and Frost case, I find her article the most troubling. If she knows nothing about the situation then why was this piece of content, which clearly contradicts Bryony, necessary? Her article feels like it was almost prompted by a legal team.

Up to this point we have seen Tom Scudamore and Nico De Boinville give vague public dismissals of this case, which was followed by the aforementioned Paul Hanagan article, and then came Hayley Turner.

Getting a female jockey to basically author an article defending the weighing room, effectively dismissing Frost’s complaints, feels particularly pointed. It appears that the defence needed a female jockey to speak up for them to make their closing arguments appear stronger.

The Racing Post should be completely unbiased, and on the most part is of course, but they almost strangely find themselves acting as a mouthpiece for Dunne’s team. This is simply not good enough.

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Moving On

Resolving this case to the satisfaction of all concerned will be extremely difficult, especially after this period of time. Bryony seems to have broken an unwritten rule with her peers, and Dunne will perpetually struggle on a public relations basis after this.

The weighing room have acted strangely as they seem to just want to squash this. I have no doubt that 99.99% of the time they manage themselves effectively, but you would want to be crazy to think that there has never been a bad egg amongst them, or that Frost has simply misunderstood her interactions. After all we are not talking about someone who does not understand her surroundings, she grew up in a racing yard!

This behaviour from the horse racing world could make it appear that they are trying to hide a clear issue from the public. The leaked BHA report stated that when other female jockeys were asked about Dunne, they all expressed misgivings, but did not want to go public with these claims in fear of retribution.

The BHA investigators also outlined in the report how “there is a cultural issue in which threatening behaviour is condoned and not reported in the weighing room.” This is not a good image.

I find it incredibly sad that the aforementioned Hayley Turner article was liked on Twitter by Frost’s colleagues such as Saffie Osbourne, Liz Kelly and Page Fuller, amongst others. This action alone suggests to an outsider that Bryony Frost is clearly not popular with her peers and possibly there could be more to this whole situation than what meets the eye, but really that shouldn’t matter at all.

Like the principle of free speech, justice wasn’t solely created for the popular and Bryony deserves to have her case dealt with properly. This case screams out that horse racing is not organised as a modern sport should be, and that it may need to be rousted into the 21st century.

The PJA (Professional Jockeys Association) have called for the case to be thrown out after the leak and that is very disappointing. As former jockey Andy McNamara pointed out on RTE, this isn’t a case litigated in front of members of the public so the leak shouldn’t matter at all, and the PJA are meant to be representing Bryony Frost as well. Their clear bias is also extremely dissatisfactory.

Regardless of what you think of her, Bryony has been very brave to stay with this complaint after all this time and she is due a proper hearing. Robbie Dunne’s name has also been dragged through the mud and it seems very cruel for him to be waiting in limbo for this long.

Throughout the summer I happened upon countless articles about how we can bring horse racing back to the masses. I would suggest now that we have a lot more to fix before we can even begin to consider marketing this wonderful sport again!

The BHA, HRI (Horse Racing Ireland) and the IHRB (Irish Horseracing Regulatory Body) have all come under sustained attacks over the last few months, and it’s very hard to have confidence in any of them solving their issues at this juncture at least.

I love this sport, but horse racing needs to rise to this challenge and move into the modern world if it is to survive, let alone begin to prosper.

Let’s hope this happens, and fast.

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.