Racing: Under strikers' orders: Jockeys down whips in dispute over mobile phones

Racing At Sandown Park tomorrow has been callled off for a reason that will have the old aristocrats of the sport spinning in their mausoleums. The jockeys, the forelock-tugging, near-slaves of recent yesteryear, are going on strike.

But the modern cause for this modern phenomenon, is something as small as shrill as the riders themselves have become; the mobile phone.

Communication, ironically enough, has broken down between the little men and racing's rule-keeper, the Jockey Club, which is seeking to limit the use of mobiles in the weighing room. This follows the "Wright trials" in 2000, when a leading jumps jockey, Graham Bradley, revealed the passing of inside information by mobile from within the riders' quarters was common currency.

In an effort to improve the image of the sport, the Jockey Club has imposed a series of limitations which mean riders can only use mobiles in a designated "phone zone" and, even then, not for incoming calls. This has not gone down well with the people who claim they need constant updates about future mounts, riding instructions and what sort of salad they will have for tea. Not quite what the club thought while searching for respect.

"They [the British Horseracing Board and Jockey Club] could not grant that small element of trust that could have brought this dispute to a swift and amicable conclusion," Michael Caulfield, chief executive of the Jockeys' Association, said yesterday.

The brinkmanship lasted until 2.30pm yesterday, with an extended deadline for the booking of jockeys, but at the cut-off just 27 of the runners at Sandown had booked riders.

"Sixty horses have been declared to run on Sunday and, with only 12 apprentice and two professional jockeys available to ride, Sandown Park considers it insufficient to satisfy an acceptable proportion of the fields," a course spokesman said.

"Less than 50 per cent of the connections of those horses declared have been able to secure jockeys. This situation precludes the racecourse from staging the fixture and providing quality racing."

There are already threats to extend the strikes to more significant meetings and, as the Jockey Club is in less than conciliatory mood, a sport already riven by huge internal divisions is set for more tumult. John Maxse, for the Jockey Club, said. "The cancellation of the meeting will not have improved their bargaining position in the debate we are having with them over the issue of mobile phones."

Comments