Jockey Club crisis as Turner resigns

Click to follow
The Jockey Club was last night able to give only the briefest response after its commitment to riders' safety was called into question by the resignation of its chief medical adviser, Dr Michael Turner.

Dr Turner has tendered his resignation in the wake of the death of the jockey Richard Davis at Southwell in July. Turner maintains that subsequent to the rider's death his recommendation that racing should not take place at Southwell on August Bank Holiday Monday was overruled by the Jockey Club.

After a day of discussions yesterday between Turner and the Stewards of the Jockey Club at the organisation's headquarters in Portman Square, London, the briefest of statements was issued.

"Discussions clarifying Dr Michael Turner's position as the Jockey Club's Chief Medical Officer are continuing," it said. Robert Waley-Cohen, the Steward heading a team, including Turner, inquiring into Davis's death, added: "As the Racecourse Steward I believe totally that the safety of horse and rider takes precedence over every other factor and it is the significant theme which runs through all the Jockey Club's regulatory work."

A more detailed response is expected today to the implications of Dr Turner's resignation which, if unanswered, could lead to a major crisis in confidence in the Jockey Club's ability to continue as racing's regulatory body.

In announcing his resignation, Dr Turner referred to his inspection of medical facilities at Southwell following the death of Davis in a fall at the course on 19 July.

He deemed that the facilities were not in compliance with Jockey Club General Instructions to racecourses and made a number of suggestions that needed to be implemented before racing the following day. Turner claims that his suggestions were rejected and he reported this back to the Jockey Club.

The Club's immediate response, according to Turner, was to agree that the Bank Holiday meeting at the track should not go ahead unless amended facilities proved up to standard at a further inspection by Turner.

However, the race meeting went ahead without a further inspection being ordered by the Jockey Club, forcing Turner to decide that he would leave his post at the end of the year unless he is given a compelling reason to stay.

"I have told the Jockey Club that under the circumstances I cannot endorse or support the action taken by the stewards," Turner told the Racing Post. "It is very difficult for me to try to promote safety on racecourses and to talk to jockeys about uniform standards if it is not being applied rigorously.

"The jockeys' lives are on the line, not the stewards' or mine."

Turner is not the first Jockey Club medical official to resign due to a disagreement in policy with his employers. His predecessor in the role, Dr Rodney O'Donnell, resigned after only 10 months in the job. The reason cited by the Jockey Club was a "failure to agree mutually acceptable working practices".

Turner became the Jockey Club's medical adviser in 1992, a part-time role occupying two and a half days a week, whereas O'Donnell's position was full-time.

Since his commencement in the position he has supervised a series of innovations that have helped improve safety standards and the fitness of riders. Among his achievements have been the introduction of better- equipped medical officers, physiotherapists at racetracks, a fitness programme for jockeys, a safer riding helmet and the introduction of random drug- testing of jockeys.

However, some of his views have been controversial and his decision to delay Walter Swinburn's comeback from serious injury and to end the career of Jonothan Lower, who has been diagnosed as a diabetic, have not been popular.

This summer he appeared on a controversial Panorama programme, suggesting a high incidence of drug taking among athletes taking part in the Atlanta Olympics. He was speaking as a former member of Britain's Olympic medical team.

The Jockeys' Association recently asked the Jockey Club to clarify Turner's role, but his resignation nevertheless concerned the association's secretary, Michael Caulfield.

"The question of racecourse medical services is a serious issue," Caulfield said. "Dr Turner has done much to improve standards and although the association has had differences of opinion, it has worked effectively with him.

"Dr Turner's reason for resigning causes concern in that he is questioning the level of medical services at one course. We will be seeking reassurances from the Jockey Club that their instructions are being adhered to and that the highest level of medical service is being offered to jockeys."