Racing: Steward takes marching orders

Greg Wood on a humiliating retreat by a top track's `Mr Racing'
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The Independent Online
For more than 50 years, John Jenyns occupied a cosy spot at the upper end of the class system, happily detached both from the lower orders and, it seems, reality. This week, in the space of just four days, the modern world broke down the front door and re-arranged the furniture. For Jenyns, who resigned as a steward at York racecourse yesterday, not to mention any other racecourse officials who share his medieval view of the world, life may never be quite the same again.

It was on Tuesday that Andrew Franklin and John Fairley, executives with Channel 4 Racing, called on Jenyns in his capacity as chairman of the York stewards, to request permission to use a camera in the winner's enclosure during last week's Dante meeting. Twelve years earlier, Fairley had filmed a stewards' inquiry at the same course, which showed the officials treating jockeys like disobedient servants, and he quckly discovered that very little had changed in the intervening period. First, Jenyns ordered him to take his hands out of his pockets, and then, when Franklin asked if they could sit down, he was told that they could not. The meeting then proceeded for half an hour with both men effectively standing to attention, which is clearly a situation which, as far as Jenyns was concerned, was simply to be expected.

When news of his discourtesy emerged, it caused deep embarrassment to the Jockey Club, which has tried hard - has tried, anyway - to dispel the image of racing officials as bumptious, tweedy snobs. There will have been much gratitude at Portman Square yesterday that Jenyns, true to form, knew when to do the decent thing, but despite his departure, several questions remain unanswered.

One, of course, is why neither Franklin nor Fairley told Jenyns where to stick the camera before marching out with heads held high in righteous indignation, rather than opt to sit - sorry, stand - and suffer. More significantly, we can only wonder how many other relics of a bygone age are still lurking in the richly-panelled stewards' rooms of Britain, harbouring resentments about the welfare state and votes for women which they then proceed to take out on the unfortunate jockeys and trainers who are hauled before them. As the men from Channel 4 point out, their livelihoods, unlike those of most of the people who passed through Jenyns' door, do not depend on his mood or prejudices.

Fairley, the chairman of Highflyer Productions, the company which covers racing for Channel 4, has already written to Sir Thomas Pilkington, the Jockey Club's Senior Steward, to complain about the "lack of courtesy" with which he was treated. On hearing of Jenyns' resignation yesterday, after 18 years on the panel at York, Fairley said: "We take no pleasure in this, but we appreciate the positive and quick response."

Jenyns has yet to offer his thoughts on the sudden end to his career at the course where - so some would have us believe - he was known as Mr Racing (and now, more probably, is referred to as the Grand Old Snob of York). He is, doubtless, an unhappy and disappointed man, a thought which prevents celebration following his very public humiliation. Well, almost.

Ultimately, the most positive aspect of the bruising collision between John Jenyns and the 20th century is the possibility that any other turf officials who share his outlook on life may stare long and hard at the face in the bathroom mirror this morning and resolve to treat everyone with more respect.

Then again, they may simply decide that Franklin and Fairley are upstart sneaks who deserve to be horsewhipped.

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