BHA cracking jokes with the whip rule

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2011, 12:00am


The stupidity of the Christophe Soumillon fine at the weekend is so universally apparent, it was refreshing to find someone on the other side of the argument, sticking to the script as agreed beforehand.

On a new-fangled Champions Day designed to showcase English racing in all its glory, authorities appear to have performed a double act and showcased the flashing red light of its idiocy as well. Not that it would have been easy to hide.

Under arcane new whip rules introduced with equally bizarre timing in the week leading to England's richest race, Soumillon was fined his almost HK$624,000 winning percentage after he used the whip on Cirrus Des Aigles six times: one less than he is allowed, but simultaneously one more than he is allowed, because all six were in the final 200m. Surely, the chef who cooked up that rule would have been on the end of a blue streak in three-Michelin-star chef Gordon Ramsay's kitchen. And nobody thought to introduce the siren that should go off as riders pass the 200m mark, just so they know it's time to start counting at the same time as navigating thousand pound-plus animals running at 60km/h.

Doubtless the next chapter of this story will feature gentlemen in wigs and gowns.

There is no truth to the widespread belief BHA stands for Benny Hill Authority and not British Horseracing Authority, though the late Benny might have learned a thing or two from it about slapstick.

Just when you think things can't get any sillier in England, they do and the Benny Hill Authority chairman, sorry, BHA chairman, Paul Roy issued what looks an irresistible challenge for the 2011 Robert Nason Award when the pressure-cooked whip dish wound up all over the walls on the weekend.

Nason, you may recall, was the gentleman running racing in Australia's state of Victoria in 2004 when he declared he would shut down the entire Melbourne Cup carnival - i.e. the one that underwrites the entire Victorian racing industry - if that's what it took to get rid of Betfair. Talk about shooting off your head to spite your face. Not long after, Mr Nason showed his words had real heartfelt emotion behind them, riding his hatred of Betfair into a job with its major rival betting operator.

Since 2004, the Robert Nason Award has been up for grabs, going to the racing administrator anywhere who comes out with the silliest opinion. And bluster and opinion are the portmanteaux where BHA chairman Roy apparently carries his misunderstanding, rebuffing any suggestion the new rules might have been ill-considered, brain dead or at the very least a masterpiece of poor timing. Roy said the new rules were neither a bad idea nor wrong, but simply needed some tweaking. Like the Black Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail, Roy cannot see that having his arms and legs cut off is anything worse than a flesh wound.

Relevance to Hong Kong is decidedly minor as racing, by comparison to other jurisdictions, is so well conducted that it is unnecessary to go overseas for something stupid enough into which to sink one's teeth. Britain is a target-rich environment.

It is still the case that any small, noisy, angry group at a racecourse in Hong Kong is more likely to wok-fry a horse in oyster sauce than protest over perceptions of its welfare.

Of course, things elsewhere have gone long past the point of considering whether so-called animal rights protesters should be appeased over whip use in racing - in the grand traditions of racing authorities and General Custer, they should have considered their last stand first.

This policy of appeasement beggars belief. Racing loses part of the war every time it cedes any ground at all in skirmishes about whip use. The misunderstanding is that so-called animal rights people want to see the end of the whip in racing - they don't. They want to see the end of racing, and whip use, or jumps racing in Australia, is simply the back door entry that lets them place the charges to destroy an industry that employs a great number of people and provides governments with large amounts of cash that paper over their mistakes in other areas.

As we said, nobody gets the chance to start again, but even this late in the game racing should simply draw a line, stand on it and demand that its foes go through lengthy, expensive legal and legislative avenues to force any change in the landscape.

Give nothing - we are seeing what happens when you try to keep them happy.