Racing: Jockey Club is living in a Pipe dream

Sport of kings, do they say? Not this week, surely, when the serial champion National Hunt trainer, Martin Pipe, faced what passes for Jockey Club justice. He was in the dock, if that's not too strong a phrase, for doing something that had he been the manager of a centre-back for, say Manchester United, would have left him neck-deep in raging controversy.

Sport of kings, do they say? Not this week, surely, when the serial champion National Hunt trainer, Martin Pipe, faced what passes for Jockey Club justice. He was in the dock, if that's not too strong a phrase, for doing something that had he been the manager of a centre-back for, say Manchester United, would have left him neck-deep in raging controversy.

As it was, Pipe was merely required to pay up £7,500 and take another "warning" after his refusal to allow his horse Tanterari, last of five at Haydock Park last week, to go into the dope-testing box.

It was the third time Pipe had broken a regulation which, unless racing administrators are, as some have long suspected, indeed operating on another planet, would seem utterly basic to the sound governance of a sport which every day claims millions of pounds of investment from the man in the street.

However, the Jockey Club takes a much less stringent view. Pipe wasn't subverting racing laws, he was merely concerned over the spread of infection. "We were not suggesting that he was trying to conceal a prohibited substance," said Jockey Club spokesman John Maxse, "but this sort of practice would set a dangerous precedent."

So it has, John. Perhaps when you have a few minutes you might explain to all those who repeatedly question racing's will to clean up its image the point of current testing procedures if a leading trainer can ignore them so regularly and with such inconsequential results. If he can behave so defiantly without arousing any suspicion beyond the one that his concern about dangers to equine health may be a little more pronounced than those of his rivals, there doesn't seem to be much of one at all.

As in the case of United's Rio Ferdinand, who was suspended amid much shock and wailing for walking away from a mandated drug test, the charge is not that Pipe is guilty of administering an illegal substance.

No, the offence was to refuse to submit to the test. Ferdinand was banned because of the acceptance in most areas of well-ordered sport that the penalty for non-compliance in testing has to be the same as a positive result. All other reactions are of course enfeebling nonsense.

Pipe walked away with the air of a key player in some racing reformation, saying: "I had a fair hearing and if this brought a consultation about looking into the problems arising from not sterilising the sampling box before and after each horse comes in, then there is something in it. I should probably have gone about it in a different way - I'm probably at fault."

Ferdinand's suspension was greeted with much outrage, especially at his club and in the offices of his union, the Professional Footballers' Association. His sentence was as severe as if he had been caught taking drugs, complained his team-mate Gary Neville. Precisely, and how, when you think about it, could it be otherwise? Neville was so angered by the episode he was said to have argued for a strike by England players when his team-mate was left out of a squad playing a vital European Championship qualifier in Istanbul. But for once the football authorities held firm on a point of invaluable principle. Ferdinand paid a heavy price for his transgression, and his apologists were quick to paint him a scapegoat and a martyr.

What is so shocking about the Pipe affair, in a sport which should be jealous of its reputation, is the ease with which it has been pushed to one side. It caused a small ripple on one day of racing, then it was gone. Pipe went on with his business, not as somebody who had contemptuously dismissed his professional duty as a licenced trainer, but as some kind of slightly quirky advocate of animal rights.

More anguish has been caused by an injured fetlock.

Ferdinand was out for eight months. Pipe will not miss a day. In two weeks' time he will have his usual cavalry charge of contenders at National Hunt's great festival at Cheltenham. Meanwhile, the Jockey Club will continue to expect to be taken seriously. The brain whirls at such a preposterous proposition.

Maybe Pipe is right about cleaning up the dope-testing box, but perhaps in more pressing need of upgrading is the image of Jockey Club members as serious stewards of their sport. To that end, they should have withdrawn Pipe's licence... at least until the end of Cheltenham.

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