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Can horse racing be fair, equitable and safe?

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Roar Rookie
6th January, 2022
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The UK racing post reported on a case involving a jockey left paralysed as a result of a fall in a race that a judge found was due to “reckless disregard for the safety of Mr Tylicki”.

The fall was judged to have resulted from a fellow jockey’s decision to shift ground when not clear of a horse on his inside.

The jockey’s actions were deemed not to be a split second reaction but rather a deliberate decision carried out over a period of a few seconds.

Interestingly the judge was not swayed by stewards previous deliberations regarding the incident and accepted evidence from other jockeys who could more rightly claim ‘expert’ status.

Whilst this case probably has little if any status in informing civil liability cases in Australia, it does bring into focus the greater risks posed by jockeys riding outside the rules – rules designed to ensure ‘fairness’ and ‘safety’ among jockeys and horses in the field of play.

Unfortunately, as a 2020 case (Singh v Lynch) highlighted, jockeys in NSW that ride outside of the rules of racing are protected from civil liability for any damage they cause. The majority ruling was that Singh should have been aware of the obvious dangers of “reckless and deliberate” conduct of another jockey irrespective of the riding rules, invalidating his claim to compensation.

As two dissenting judges in that appeal case noted however, civil liability should not be interpreted in a way that “effectively gives license to individuals to engage in conduct that involves risk of harm beyond that which may be reasonably expected”. Selling Professional Indemnity insurance to jockeys must be a brokers’ dream.

It is incomprehensible to me that the ‘rules of racing’ are not the basis of ‘what should be reasonably expected’ (of all participants) given they are in place to ensure safety and fairness among horse and rider.

After all, aren’t the ‘road rules’ the basis by which courts judge expectations of others’ reasonable driving behaviour? Should I not be able to claim for loss or damage because I know that some drivers drive while drunk or drugged, disobey traffic lights and stop signs, speed above road limits – all ‘obvious’ risks at anytime of day or night?

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At the same time, it is not surprising to me that the majority of judges took the much broader view – that jockeys should reasonably expect other jockeys to ride outside of the rules in the pursuit of winning for one simple fact. Singh’s lawyers would have found it impossible to argue that those riding outside the rules was an unusual or an obscure possibility – a simple look at Stewards reports would make such an argument laughable.

Close up of a horse

(Image byJackieLou DL via Pixabay)

You might have thought that inexperienced jockeys would figure most prominently in stewards reports- yet the opposite is true (in NSW at least). Those judged to be the ‘best in class’ dominated reprimands, suspensions and fines among those who can’t count (whip rule), can’t steer (careless riding) or save their energy for later rides (failing to ride horses in contention to the line).

Five of Sydney’s top ranked jockeys accounted for almost 50 sanctions in NSW stewards reports in 2021….not one a horse’s fault. A figure I consider amazing given how few meetings they ride at (relative to lower ‘tier’ jockeys) and the time spent ‘on holiday’ (or interstate).

In the absence of (consistent) legislation that protects the fair rights of individuals and horses participating in horse racing, it is up to the industry (through stewards) to uphold standards that provide ‘fairness’ and ‘safety’ of participants.

After all ‘fairness’ and ‘safety’ are central to Racing’s social licence. It’s also what Principal Racing Authorities decree in their Annual Reports to the public.

The sanctions imposed by NSW (and likely other states) stewards and appeal boards have failed as a deterrent mechanism. There is no evidence that jockeys involved in causing serious injury (or death) to horses and jockeys in recent years have mended their ways.

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There is no evidence that jockeys reprimanded for careless riding ride with any greater care in subsequent races. In fact, quite the opposite seems true. They are riding less and breaching rules more. Some jockeys have longer records of rule (law) breaking than many criminals.

I don’t blame the jockeys – they don’t enforce the rules, stewards do. That race falls and serious (career limiting) injury to horses and jockeys as a result of jockey behaviour have continued without any noticeable decline is a disgrace.

That Racing Executives have fallen over themselves to claim the ‘participant’ and ‘horse’ welfare titles is equally a disgrace. Jockeys and horses have careers limited or ended with regular monotony. Owners lose millions due entirely to the supervision of racing that is not ‘fair’ and/or not ‘safe’.

It is also a disgrace that many in the industry trot out ‘that’s racing’ when confronting serious injury to horse and/or rider. No it’s not. It’s what Stewards and others in Racing HQ allow to happen. A good place to start would be to impose financial ‘damages’ for every rule infringement.

It’s time Racing Officials listed to the advice of the two ‘dissenting judges’ that they should not give “license to individuals to engage in conduct that involves risk of harm beyond that which may be reasonably expected”.

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