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British Horseracing Authority stewards accused of missing non-triers 28/01/2012
Chris Cook
Race analysts and bookmakers insist more questions should be asked of trainers and jockeys

Stewards are not doing enough to clamp down on non-triers in jump races, according to veteran race analysts and the representative of one of Britain's major bookmakers. Though the problem is long-standing, there is frustration at the apparent reluctance of stewards and officials at the British Horseracing Authority to ask questions of trainers and jockeys.

The issue was highlighted at the start of the core jumps season when Timeform, the respected ratings organisation, included an essay on the subject in its Chasers & Hurdlers annual. The unbylined piece declared that: "The rules requiring horses to be ridden on their merits are regularly flouted … At times nowadays, at some of the more far-flung outposts of jump racing, it seems as if [stewards] are hardly applying [the rules] at all."

That remains Timeform's view, according to Simon Walker, their head of editorial. "There are plenty on a weekly basis that we suspect aren't running on their merits, but then there's nothing new in that," he said on Wednesday. .

In common with all media outlets, Timeform are constrained by the libel laws from making specific accusations of non-trying. A race analyst's opinion, however strongly held, does not constitute proof.

Simon Clare, director of communications at Coral, is concerned about horses who are allowed to be uncompetitive early in their career. "It's still part of the culture of jump racing that horses in a race are sometimes being given an education," he says. "It's part of their progression, an easy race, a nice introduction, we don't want to be too hard on him – that's the attitude.

"Those horses aren't necessarily being laid to lose but people, when they're privy to that sort of information, can whittle a race down to one or two live runners. Not enough is being done to stop that. We need to ensure that jump racing is competitive and that the participants are there to do themselves justice. We're not expecting every horse to be whipped or anything like that but we can't get into the situation where it becomes acceptable to use the racecourse as a schooling ground."

David Cleary, a long-serving race analyst and former editor of Chasers & Hurdlers, is more worried about "horses of established merit who have clear chances on form and yet who apparently underperform without any valid explanation offered". He feels there are "several" cases each week. Asked if stewards are doing enough to seek explanations when this happens, Cleary says: "I don't think they are but that seems to come down from the BHA. I think there are people on the BHA side who are aware of what is going on but there needs to be a will to tackle this thing."

His concerns are shared by Jonathan Neesom, another experienced race-reader now working as an expert on Racing UK. Of the stewards and the BHA, he says: "They don't seem to want to make too much of a fuss. They are garnering some success through clobbering people who have been laying horses on Betfair but there appear to be so few inquiries into running and riding these days.

"I suppose they're thinking that it's a lot harder to prove skulduggery in terms of horses not producing their best efforts. They're probably thinking that they're always at risk of litigation."

Jamie Stier, the BHA's head of raceday regulation, was on annual leave and unavailable for comment. A BHA spokesman, John Maxse, said: "Unless it is a blatant case, which are now few and far between, whether a horse has been run on its merits is a subjective matter.

"It should also be pointed out that the absence of an inquiry on the day does not mean the run of a particular horse has gone unnoticed.

"Supporting the racecourse stewards are a team of BHA handicappers who review the races and there is also a monitoring team at the BHA offices, who watch the races in conjunction with the relevant betting patterns."

"In addition, there are systems in place, such as automatic inquiries when a horse wins a race without having previously been placed, which enable earlier runs to be subject to review when a horse has shown improved form. Finally, the runs of individual horses will always be reviewed if specifically brought to the attention of BHA."

But, as was noted in Chasers & Hurdlers, the last case in which connections were charged after officials pored over a horse's previous runs was that of Celtic Son, seven years ago.

Some within racing quietly agree with trainer Barry Hills, reported to have said, on retiring from the sport last year: "Don't police it too much – it wants a bit of skulduggery".

Cleary rejects this. "That sort of attitude still exists in racing and people think it's all right because it's the bookies who are being hit," he says. "But in fact it's the punters who are being hit and it's the trainers of horses who are being campaigned honestly and openly who are being hit. That's why something needs to be done."

Neesom would also prefer better regulation but adds: "I do think the game is relatively straight, given how much it costs to keep a horse. There are ways of getting it handicapped without cheating.

"You just run it over the wrong trip or on the wrong ground, at the wrong course or with the wrong riding tactics and you leave it to punters to see through that. As long as the horse is ridden vigorously, there's nothing wrong with that, it's part of the game. There's a certain amount of gamesmanship but how else are you supposed to get a horse back to its right handicap mark?"
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