For a sport which tickled the nation with its efforts to launch a race at Aintree last April, National Hunt racing appears to have learned little in terms of fostering a public image. At the Midlands course at the weekend, the laughter must have welled up once again.
Adrian Maguire, the leader in the race for the jockeys' title, can be considered the warm-up man, for his ride on Ramstar. As he raised his whip arm 29 times in the closing stages of the second race, Maguire might as well have been beating the credibility out of the body of racing.
If the rule book had been followed, Maguire would now be languishing in racing's Alcatraz, for this was the same jockey who had been banned for two days for his riding of Barton Bank in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, where he hit that gelding (only) 10 times.
When the young Irishman returned to the weighing room on Saturday he had the look of a tumbril passenger as he, and the weighing room, anticipated what is euphemistically known as a 'holiday'. 'I think we all accepted something was going to happen,' Declan Murphy, who finished third in Saturday's race on Dont Tell The Wife, said. 'Adrian knew he had hit the horse more times than the guidelines allow.' (The stewards' attention is triggered by six applications of the whip).
But when Maguire emerged from his debriefing with the stewards - who were advised by the same stipendiary, Jeremy Ker, as the three-man panel at Kempton - he brought with him the inconsistency in the enforcement of racing's rules. For this ride, in statistical terms almost three times more damaging than the one at Sunbury, he was not banned. He was not sent to Portman Square. And he was not even ticked off.
Maguire told the stewards that 'he was only swinging his whip in the closing stages and not making contact.' Ker added: 'Stewards are there to make a judgement on the evidence and they decided he was not in breach. It is all a matter of opinion - you win some, you lose some - and in my book jockeys win more than they lose.'
Among those who may have been banging the televison set as he heard the outcome of the inquiry was Anthony Mildmay- White, one of the architects of the new whip rule. The chairman of the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Committee was immediately struck by this apparent inconsistency and has requested a report on the matter. Yesterday he said: 'I want to see camera patrol film and transcripts of the inquiry before I make a full comment.'
Mildmay-White is soon to embark on a series of seminars, refreshing the minds of local stewards on Rule H9, which governs use of the whip, and the Warwick class may well be advised to shove a jotter down the back of their pants.
While Maguire will be relieved that his championship momentum has not been interrupted, both he, and his weighing room colleagues, will have been disturbed by Saturday's events. Dealing with the martinets of the stewards' room at Kempton may have been unpleasant enough, but the absence of a pattern may be more disturbing in the long term.
Murphy, who was also banned in the King George (subsequently overturned on appeal), asked yesterday: 'If the stewards at Warwick yesterday felt that what happened was acceptable and a different panel of stewards at Kempton, guided by the same stipendiary steward, felt that what we did was not acceptable, then where does that leave us?'
'I had hoped my case at Portman Square would have put us on the same wavelength. . . but it seems the stewards at Kempton have misintepreted the guidelines at one end and the stewards at Warwick have got it wrong at the other end. So where's the balance?'
Murphy believes inconsistency among officials also emerges according to the prestige of the racing. 'At Kempton, Cheltenham or Ascot on a big day we've got to treat the guidelines strictly and we ride accordingly,' he said. 'But at these lesser meetings, like yesterday, there is less focus on everybody, stewards included, and it seems you can show a little disregard for the rules and get away with it. On a normal day of the week it's casual and like a Fourth Division atmosphere and stewards don't feel any pressure. But put the same people in on a big day, in a First Division match if you like, and they feel the pressure and they make hasty decisions.
'What it all boils down to is whether we let these rules and guidelines be administered by anybody other than someone professional. The people out there who are administering the rules are not being professional enough and that's not good enough for us.'
These complications are no surprise to Michael Caulfield, the secretary of the Jockeys' Association. 'I said back in July that in the long run this rule would cause more difficulties to stewards than it would to jockeys, that it was always going to lead to complications as it's such a tight and complex instruction,' he said yesterday.
'The jockeys are under a bit of pressure, but they're working hard and getting on with it and it's the local stewards who now have more soul-searching to do than them.'
Indeed, soul-searching will have to take place among those at Portman Square who put these whip rules in place. The Westminster-Motor Taxi Insurance Novices' Chase on Saturday proved there is something wrong with either rule H9 or the general standard of stewarding. One of them needs to be acted on, and acted on quickly.Reuse content