Racing: Jockey Club fails to explain itself

The "weighing room three" got their licences back yesterday as the impression strengthened that the Jockey Club is now reacting to, rather than controlling, events. Richard Edmondson reports.

One of the most humiliating weeks in the history of the Jockey Club (formed 1752) ended at 13.09 yesterday when Jamie Osborne, Dean Gallagher and Leighton Aspell emerged from Portman Square and confirmed their jockeys' licences had been returned. They remain puzzled why they were confiscated in the first place.

There was no revelation from the Jockey Club yesterday about their original decision. They maintain they acted with racing's integrity in mind and to reassure public confidence; that the men questioned, but not charged, by police investigating doping and race-fixing were correctly banned.

It is the confidence in racing's lawmen, however, that has been called into question. "I've spent 10 years working with the Jockey Club but the last seven days have been difficult. I felt we may have received a better response," Michael Caulfield, secretary to the Jockeys' Association, said yesterday. "Their behaviour has been curious to say the least, but the jockeys can now return to their working environment."

There is little doubt the Jockey Club has been rattled by some of the rather beastly press comment since last Wednesday's suspensions. At the outset of a crisp morning there did seem, however, to be something of a rapprochement as reporters were welcomed through the portals. The mood changed, though, as soon as the two-hour meeting between the jockeys, their legal representatives and the Licensing Committee was over. The press horde was shooed out and told to wait on the pavement.

The three jockeys eventually emerged and expertly pierced a crescent of television cameramen, snappers and hacks, relaying little more than their joy. Gallagher said: "I'm delighted. I will not ride tomorrow or Friday because I've missed a few days but by Saturday I will be 100 per cent fit."

Aspell is likely to be the first in action as he will partner Josh Gifford's New Rising in a novice hurdle this afternoon if Towcester survives a 7.30am inspection. He is also pencilled in for three at Lingfield tomorrow and at least as many on Sandown's Saturday card.

Osborne's immediate challenge is to recover from a broken left wrist in time for National Hunt's greatest meeting. He said: "If I'm going to be ready to ride at Cheltenham, I need to be riding out within four weeks. I'm delighted we all got our licences back and the Festival is still my main aim."

The riders were not embittered, however, and it was clear there had been some sort of plea bargaining, and that it was the Jockey Club who had been rescued. Rather than a broadside from a battleship, they received a slap on the bottom with a rowing boat oar.

The Jockey Club produced no evidence against the riders yesterday. They did not explain why they embarked on the campaign of "soundings" among the racing industry that ultimately freed the jockeys, and they did not refute the accusation that the "weighing-room three" would still be banned now had it not been for the insistence of their solicitors that yesterday's meeting be held.

Christopher Foster, the Jockey Club's executive director, said: "The community of horseracing is a very close one, and it is understandable strong emotions were aroused. The Jockey Club will continue to do everything in its powers to maintain the integrity of horseracing."

The jockeys themselves will now continue to do what they do best. Caulfield added: "The most natural environment for these jockeys is on a horse and the most unnatural environment is sitting in highly pressurised meetings at Portman Square and dealing with the intense, but natural, media interest. The one thing which jockeys can actually handle is the pressure of riding racehorses, be it 1,000 people or 50,000 at the Cheltenham Festival. They're more nervous about dealing with situations such as today's."

Some of the jockeys' questioners this last week have not been acting with any great ease either. The Jockey Club's spirit can hardly have been raised yesterday as the pavement scrum dispersed just as the theme of compensation was floated into the cold air.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

NAP: Classic Find

(Lingfield 3.50)

NB: New Yorker

(Lingfield 4.20)

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