Tough job is not without its controversies

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 July, 2010, 12:00am

COLLECTION INQUIRY

When the John Moore-trained favourite Collection was humbled by stablemate Viva Pataca in the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup on April 25, Kelly opened an inquiry into jockey Darren Beadman's riding of Collection in the final 100 metres after heavy criticism by sections of the local media.

'It was certainly a matter that warranted investigation, and stewards took a volume of evidence from all the relevant parties before reaching a decision, but we had to close our mind to any criticism or pressure being placed upon us by certain members of the press and the public and just deal with the matter purely on the merits of the case,' Kelly said.

'Given the manner in which Collection was racing, not only in the straight but throughout the race, and all the circumstances of the case, we were comfortable that no breach of the rules had been committed and we live and die by that decision.

'Once we make any decision it's on the public record, it's there for everybody to analyse, dissect, put under the microscope and have their opinion on. Everyone is welcome to their opinion, we never try to influence a person's opinion on a matter, we just want to put our side of things, and while we might try to correct factual errors, we would never want to stop people having their own opinion.

THE PRESS

Kelly now has a first-hand taste of just how warm the 'hot seat' can get after he was the target of sustained ridicule over his handling of the Collection inquiry - with some commentators getting a fortnight's worth of columns out of the issue which was deliberated on for weeks in the local press.

A volatile combination of large amounts of column centimetres to fill, angry punters who had backed the beaten odds-on favourite and more columnists with an axe to grind than you could shake a stick at - left Kelly in a poor light in terms of public perception.

'The upside of press attention is that there are people out there who are passionate about racing. We want people to remain passionate about racing, we don't ever want them to become blas?about it and go off to other sports,' Kelly said.

'While it can be a double edged sword for stewards at times, we'd rather have that, than have people having no interest in the sport. When you have passionate people like that, you have a healthy racing industry. In respect of the criticism, I constantly tell the panel that whatever decision we make, it won't be universally applauded, and for that reason alone we have to always, when making a decision, close our mind as to how it will be received by the press and by extension, the public.

'If you start worrying about the way a matter will be received, you start doing injustices, whether it be you suspend people for the wrong reasons to sate the appetite of a crowd who want blood on the floor, or you start promoting favourites to keep punters happy.

'We have to close our mind to those pressures and make a decision purely on the evidence before us and the merits of the case.

'I'm very happy with the support I've been given, from not only the other stewards but also from the Club, in taking on a job that has basically always been described as a hot seat, which it very much is.'

IDLE CHATTER?

An innocuous class-five handicap at Sha Tin on December 19 presented another uniquely Hong Kong challenge for Kelly and his panel of stewards. Two apprentice riders, Ben So Tik-hung and Keith Yeung Ming-lun, were found to have been discussing their rides in the Jockey Club hostel in which they live.

So led all the way to win the event in question on Super Family after Yeung restrained his mount, Noble Zoom, through the middle sections, slowing the field and allowing So and Super Family to pinch an unassailable break.

Kelly formed the view while jockeys should not discuss the merits and the possible tactics to be adopted on their respective riding engagements, he and the stewards were comfortable the conversation had not taken place to affect the equity of the race, and therefore were satisfied the integrity of the race had not been compromised.

'The fact that two apprentices spoke about each and every single one of their rides, sometimes riding against each other in races, sometimes not, was cause for concern,' Kelly said. 'It shouldn't have happened, but the stewards needed to establish there was some impropriety in those conversations for action to be taken, and there had to be some collusion as to one person taking advantage over the other, or one apprentice helping the other.

'In a hostel situation where they live and breathe racing together, side by side 24 hours a day, of course they are going to talk about racing.

'It isn't proper, and we told them that if they do have those conversations it gives away their competitive advantage, and in any case, people can construe those conversations in any number of ways and it would be easy to get the wrong impression.

'We found that they spoke about every one of their rides, not just the Super Family and Noble Zoom race, as they had done previously in the general course of living together in the hostel environment.

'Since that time we've introduced monthly meetings with the apprentices, and we talk to them about being a jockey. We show them where they've done good things and where they've done not so good things. We show them senior jockeys' rides where they've ridden well or made a mistake.

'We have ramped up the education process of apprentice jockeys to keep them out of the stewards' room. We're comfortable with the level of improvement from the apprentices this season and that indicates those sessions are a worthwhile exercise.

'While there have been too many incidents of careless riding, and earlier in the season too many incidents where their conduct has warranted undue attention, those matters appear to be improving and we hope that will continue to be the case.'