down cross

BHA didn't deserve such a shoeing despite jittery January

The Thursday column

The stewards at Uttoxeter made headlines by fining trainer Henry Oliver
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Outrage, intolerance, anger and hatred. These are things humans have become exceptionally good at expressing in recent years, almost certainly coinciding with the widespread adoption of social media as a way of taking feelings that only you knew you were experiencing and delivering them to the world in general, and the specific cause of them in particular.

Where once you would simply curse inwardly at a slightly incoherent piece of analysis by, say, David Pleat during a match, now you can let the world know just what a disgrace it is that a co-commentator said a player was Colombian when he is in fact from Venezuela.

Everyone from refs to politicians to newspaper columnists can now go on Twitter and find out exactly how vile and incompetent they are, and nobody is immune to the flak.

Look at the grief the British Horseracing Authority is copping right now. It has had a tricky old January, first with its plan to ensure all jumps horses must wear four shoes to race, and then when the stewards at Uttoxeter fined a trainer on Saturday for breaking a rule, an act that generated further fury when the BHA made a botched attempt to explain the reasoning for the decision.

Trainers have been venting their feelings on any medium they can lay their hands on. Hendo says he’s “in despair” while Alan King claims in his Weekender column: “If I ran my business as badly as the BHA run theirs I wouldn’t have an owner left”.

Charlie Mann was even more apoplectic, tweeting: “It is hardly surprising the BHA have made all these ridiculous decisions as they are a bunch of grey-suited idiots that are completely out of touch with what we do. And Theresa May thinks she’s got problems!”

So there you have it. Perhaps if May finally gets Brexit over the line she can pop along to Holborn and see if she can bring some harmony to the burning issue of whether horseshoes should be compulsory in novice chases at Kelso.

Mann’s rant was shocking in its intensity but some humour was brought to the situation when an enlargement of his Twitter profile picture revealed what looked suspiciously like a grey suit (the jacket part at least) as part of an ensemble that also featured a bright yellow knitted cardigan and a brown hat the brim of which was about six feet in diameter.

I wonder what the reaction to the two contentious BHA decisions would have been in the pre-Twitter era, before we all became so proficient at venting our rage so expertly.

Maybe there would have been objections made via the National Trainers Federation regarding the horseshoes directive, while the £140 fine given to trainer Henry Oliver for waving his arms at his runner Burrenbridge Hotel in an attempt to get the horse to jump off would have been met simply with a chorus of tuts in the sport’s heartlands and a letter or two to the Racing Post.

Clearly, this has not been the BHA’s most successful start to a year, but the reaction to both sources of controversy has now veered into the excessive zone in my view.

King said: “It appears that common sense has completely gone out of the window”, but unfortunately it is rarely possible to weave common sense into a rulebook because that creates grey areas and, besides, the regulator has reacted to the opposition to the mandatory wearing of shoes by delaying the implementation pending further research, which sounds fairly common sensible to me.

As for penalising Oliver, he broke the rules and was given a fairly small fine as a consequence. Anyone who doesn’t like the rule should focus on getting it looked at rather than getting so animated when it happens to be enforced.

There must be a reason why it exists, and presumably it’s because if a race included a number of horses who had shown a reluctance to start at the same time as the rest of the field we could be left with a situation whereby a group of trainers were gathered at the start waving their arms around like morris dancers. That could have the effect of spooking those placid sorts who would have jumped off perfectly well without the need for anyone to start gesticulating wildly.

Where the BHA got everything it deserved was the ill-judged attempt to explain why Oliver was brought to book, which took the form of a media release the following day in which the regulator mentioned the fact that horses are not forced to race and that they do so of their own free will.

Following a barrage of ridicule, the BHA was forced to admit it made a mistake in issuing the release, and accepted the criticism. If the initial error was woeful, the response did at least show some common sense.

Let’s hope things settle down. Racing needs a strong, sensible regulator and, if you are prepared to judge it without the events of jittery January, that’s largely what the BHA is, although not everyone agrees, including my learned colleague Richard Forristal, whose sharply contrasting views are expressed on page four of this newspaper.

It seems people appear to forget the BHA has to operate in what is sometimes a nearly impossible environment that requires it to satisfy and placate various constituents, some of whose particular interests are bound to conflict with other stakeholders.

I would particularly urge all trade bodies and representative organisations to take a good look through the rules of racing and raise individual areas of concern, because it does the sport’s image no good when everyone flies off the handle every time a rule they do not like is enforced.

And hopefully the BHA has learned the lesson that there is a time (and a way) to try to explain its actions, and a time to stand firm and apply the rules – however adverse the reaction on social media and elsewhere might be.

Quicker thinking needed on free-kick laws

It was hard to have much sympathy with Manchester City for their latest shock defeat, this time at Newcastle on Tuesday. To let slip a lead they had taken after just 24 seconds in such a casual manner did not suggest this is a unit with a desperate desire to retain their crown at all costs.

Fernandinho, otherwise almost perfect this season, should be haunted for months about the decision to try to turn in his own box when he must have known he had company, a phenomenally reckless move that led to Newcastle’s decisive penalty kick.

But I did feel sorry for Pep’s men for a first-half incident that showed a blatant flaw in the current laws of the game. 

City won a free kick in a reasonably dangerous area, and Kevin De Bruyne appeared to be instructed by arbiter Tierney to wait for his whistle before he took it.

As the ref went to take up his position De Bruyne knocked the ball into the box and Aguero put it into the net, but Tierney responded by disallowing the goal and cautioning the Belgian for taking the kick too quickly.

This needs looking into. It cannot be right that a team that has been the victim of a transgression of the rules is penalised for wanting to restart play as quickly as possible.

The delay to the resumption of the game when a foul has taken place has been creeping up in recent years to the extent that it is now standard procedure for free kicks in either third of the pitch to take at least a minute to happen, a needless pause that serves only to allow the defending team to ensure they are perfectly set up to repel the free kick and enable the referee to get some air into his lungs.

Quickly-taken free kicks used to be perfectly acceptable and, indeed, encouraged, with defenders earning a booking if they interfered with the kick by encroaching within ten yards.

This was a good situation and led to some clever goals being scored while walls were being arranged.

Now, however, referees take great pride in ensuring everyone in the ground can see them pointing to their whistle to indicate nothing will happen until white lines have been sprayed, walls perfectly aligned and attackers tightly marked.

It would benefit the game’s flow if this could be reviewed and teams who have had attacks thwarted unfairly be allowed to get on with their attempts to score as quickly as they, rather than the referees, like.


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I wonder what the reaction to the two BHA decisions would have been in the pre-Twitter era, before we all became so proficient at venting our rage
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