'Strikers' escape ban

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A victor finally emerged last night after two days of deliberation at Jockey Club headquarters into the strange case of the striking jockeys, and somewhat surprisingly, it turned out to be common sense.

Where once the Club's disciplinarians might have sought to re-inforce their authority, the hearing instead decided that the apparent refusal of 21 jockeys to ride at Haydock Park on 16 October last year had more to do with a breakdown of communications than any organised strike action. Only Lanfranco Dettori, the former champion, was found to have breached the rules, and the Disciplinary Committee decided that, "having regard to the circumstances", it would not impose any penalty.

The circumstances concerned the way in which the riders were told of the Haydock officials' belief that the going was safe for racing. After torrential rain, the ground was very heavy and this view was one with which several jockeys who had ridden in the first race of the day did not concur.

The Stewards' Secretary entered the weighing room shortly before the second race, and asked who was prepared to ride. One jockey, whom the Committee was - somewhat conveniently - unable to identify, said that no one was, but due to the confusion at the time, a number of his colleagues did not hear the question, the answer or both.

In effect, the local stewards have been found guilty of a minor breach of procedure, rather than the far more serious possibility of ordering jockeys to ride on ground which was unsafe. The jockeys, meanwhile, are guilty only of failing to notice what was happening, and everyone emerges with honour satisfied.

Dettori was the only rider to break the rules because he had already decided that he would not ride again that afternoon because of fears for his own safety and that of his mounts. Since he had communicated this decision to the stewards, and the Committee decided that the ground was in fact safe, his reason for failing to ride after weighing out was deemed unacceptable. Again, however, the Club was pragmatic enough to realise that a fine was not an appropriate response.

"Jockeys have always ridden when instructed to do so and in this case it was no different," Michael Caulfield, secretary of the Jockeys' Association, said. "Jockeys are co-operative sportsman and don't wish to be involved in this sort of controversy again."

Racing, page 23