'We normally have about 55 falls on the Flat each year,' Michael Caulfield, secretary of the Jockeys' Association, said yesterday, 'and this year we're up in the 40s already. The number of fallers is remarkably high for the time of year.'
It is not possible, though, to isolate a cause for the run of accidents. 'I think you could pick a dozen reasons,' Caulfield said. 'We've had a dry summer with storms, which tends to produce slippery conditions, and the competitive racing initiative has been a success. The days of four-runner races with a 1-10 shot seem over, and you've got maiden handicaps and limited stakes with a packetful of runners, all handicapped within 10lb of each other, so they're racing tightly throughout. And you've got jockeys receiving firm orders to ride a certain way, youngsters coming through eager to impress, changes to the layout of courses. Lots of reasons.'
Of the many representatives of racing's special-interest groups, Caulfield is one of the most positive and effective, and he is not one to highlight a problem without offering at least a partial remedy. In this case, he believes that a new rule requiring riders to keep straight for the first 100 or 200 yards of a race would help the runners to sort themselves out with the minimum opportunity for interference. A similar system operates in several major racing countries, including France and South Africa.
The obvious problem with such a scheme is the irregular, and sometimes unique, design of many British courses, At Chester, where runners are on the turn almost from start to finish, a wide draw is already a significant disadvantage. If a jockey is not permitted to make a swift break and get a position early on, a bad berth might prove almost impossible to overcome.
'This would clearly be the main problem, how to interpret the rule and how to ride to it on tracks like Chester, or at Lingfield over five furlongs,' Caulfield said. 'But most other countries do seem to adopt this rule, and they have a variety of courses as well. British jockeys who have ridden abroad tell me that it does seem to work, that it helps to sort them out in the early stages and that it doesn't seem to affect results, even if they race around a bend.'
The Jockey Club, however, has yet to be convinced, believing that the present rules on crossing and interference are sufficient. 'We have an effective rule which, if properly applied, is a good deterrent,' David Pipe, the Club's spokesman, said. 'We don't believe at the moment that it is necessary or practical to change.' Caulfield, though, feels that 'a lot of interference in the early part of a race is down to what you might call general bunching, and you can't pull someone out and say 'that was your fault'.'
Caulfield put his case to Anthony Mildmay-White, chair of the Club's Disciplinary Committee, yesterday. He was asked to submit a paper for discussion, but at this stage the Club's attitude is unchanged.
Its objections seem reasonable, but it is hard to argue when the riders themselves feel that a course of action is necessary. A monitored trial of a no-crossing rule for two or three months, with the views of all interested parties canvassed subsequently, might offer a suitable compromise.
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