Is this perhaps the stupidest Tweet of 2020 so far and does it highlight a bigger issue within racing?
Social media, when deployed correctly, can be an ingenious tool and one that allows the average every day man in street the opportunity to get more involved with something or someone they’re hugely passionate about. That interaction can be a blessing but also a curse.
Sadly the term “troll” has taken on a whole new meaning since the invention of social media and although it allows every man and his dog to interact with their heroes it also gives them the opportunity to spew utter bile towards anyone they disagree with or who has marginally upset or inconvenienced them in any way, shape or form.
In the world of racing it provides a platform for what can be described as “Pocket Talk” when punters who decided they’ve unearthed a dead-cert see it all come crashing down around them. We all get a bit disheartened when a horse we’ve been championing fails to deliver but purely as human beings we have a certain level of responsibility to one another to be able to control what comes out of our mouths or out of our finger tips so to speak. Equally when it comes to those with a modicum of power wether that be an athlete, an organisation or an A-List mega star this responsibility (due to their audience and large influence) to monitor what they put out their becomes ten fold and is always going to be put under the microscope. It would be flippant to suggest that these people of influence are any different from you or I, after all everyone is capable of making mistakes and doing or saying something they later regret but when it comes to serious matters at what point do you have to call out one of these huge errors in judgement?
Trainer Jamie Osborne has been at the forefront of many a major racing headline in his time, some good and some bad and this past weekend took to Twitter to lambast a recent “Quiz” that Chief Executive of NARS George McGrath decided to publish to his members. The aforementioned quiz outlined 12 questions that pinpointed various allegations made by different stable staff across the country in regards to their employers.
The NARS 12 days of Christmas quiz
1 Name the trainer that thinks part-time staff do not have the right to holidays? There is more than one correct answer to this question.
2 Name the trainer that thinks part-time members of staff are not entitled to receive pool money?
3 Name the trainer who believes he is above the law by refusing to pay for work completed?
4 Name the trainer who thinks he can refuse to pay his staff because he doesn’t agree with their lifestyle?
5 Name the trainer who keeps the best turned out money to pay for diesel in the horsebox?
6 Name the trainer who does not believe he has to abide by a doctor’s note and told the member to return to work (member broke their hand)?
7 Name the trainer who paid his staff £120 per week for working eight hour mornings six days a week?
8 Name the trainer whose secretary gets four times the pool money that the staff receive?
9 Name the trainer who refused to carry out a risk assessment on a pregnant member of staff (legally required)?
10 Name the trainer who refuses to pay sick pay?
11 Name the trainer that pays his female riders less than the male counterparts with similar ability?
12 Name the trainer who was arrested for assaulting a female member of staff?
A photo of this publication did the rounds on Twitter and prompted the following response from trainer Jamie Osborne who stated.
It is a sad day for our valued stable staff when their representative sees fit to publish this. If it was an attempt at humour it failed. If it was an attempt to further relationships it failed. If it was an attempt to misrepresent the industry then it has succeeded. pic.twitter.com/892alUzaBR — jamie osborne (@osbornejamie) January 4, 2020
Although Osborne has subsequently acknowledged that his tweet was worded badly he went on to say: “I accept that my initial tweet was probably badly worded and gave the wrong impression we had something to hide. I want to make it very clear that the vast majority of trainers have absolutely nothing to hide with this issue.”
“My annoyance last night [Saturday evening] was ignited because it appeared to me that George McGrath almost wants to promote the image that malpractice is endemic within the industry when the reality is very different.”
“If there are 6,500 stable staff in this country that means there are 2.3 million working days and he is pulling out isolated cases, which is such a tiny minority of these working days, when there have been disputes or an alleged malpractice, and he wants to paint the picture that this is what he’s dealing with.”
Perhaps it is true to some extent that McGrath’s way of highlighting these issues may not have been done in the best of manners but equally the fact that it has garnered such attention means that it has surely achieved what it set out to do?
In regards to his tweet Osborne came across as if he missed the point of the “quiz” entirely. Instead of applauding the fact that people were finally coming forward and praising their courage to highlight these issues and show his solidarity and support for anyone in racing who has experienced such treatment he came across as self serving, un-caring and almost as if he were trying to direct the spotlight away from the issues at hand.
Within an industry that sadly only tends to be viewed by the general public as often corrupt, stuck in the dark ages and very cloak and dagger this tweet does very little to show that racing has moved with the times.
The point of the NARS publication was to highlight some of the atrocious things that still take place within the racing industry. Now don’t misinterpret what I aim to say, obviously these incidents aren’t exclusive to racing and unfortunately will occur in various working environments however when racing is already suffering because of public perception those within the sport need to be so careful about what impression we give.
Osborne’s stance on the matter, sadly as with a lot of grey areas within racing, looked as if he wanted to sweep it under the proverbial rug.
Although this may seem a very excessive analogy to use but if you take a serious crime such as assault does it really matter if there is one assault or numerous assaults? Surely the incident itself is equally as atrocious and just shouldn’t happen whatsoever regardless of the numbers? Osborne’s claims that it wasn’t a pandemic seemed irrelevant.
The sad fact that someone such as Osborne chose to take this stance further enhances why an organisation such as NARS is so vital to people working within the sport. When an employer such as Osborne openly expresses the notion that because the issues aren’t as rife as they are portrayed they don’t deserve the same level of attention what example does that set to his own staff who may one day want to approach him with any concerns or fears of their own?
Surely with organisations as big as Osborne’s yard there are people who should be on hand to ensure that Tweets such as this get vetted and triple checked? I’m not for censoring anyone by any stretch of the imagination and nor should people profess to be something they are not but such a Tweet was so poorly delivered, painted Osborne in a very poor light and was yet another sign of the many issues racing sadly has.
Perhaps this may well be close to the wire it’s also seen by some that Osborne’s attempt to be the spokesperson for morality is very hypocritical considering some of his past dealings that brought the game into utter disrepute and practically to its knees.
This incident aside however it acts as a massive insight into one of the various issues within racing that once again continue to be ignored as the sport I love stagnates further and continuously gets left behind.
At the end of 2019 it was found, and pretty much admitted to (in the form of social media posts) that the owner of horse Little Rory Mac had “plotted” the horses success. The photo of a car handbrake eluding to the fact that the horse had been prevented from winning until the money was down, and boy was the money down, as the owner revealed a sack full of cash he’d collected from the bookmakers. Further more he decided to berate anyone who dared question his and the jockeys actions and rather than keeping a professional level head and representing the sport in a positive light fired back with childish and petulant remarks.
Sadly these incidents aren’t few and far between and as someone on the fringes of racing myself the perceived “Them And Us” attitude continues to run the course through racing as those within the sport treat those outside of their sacred inner circle with utter disscontempt and are laughed at for daring to question their actions. Jockeys tend to throw out the usual “have you ever even ridden?” as a standard argument to defend some of their disappointing rides to disgruntled punters. They use this copy and paste like statement despite the fact that the man who represents a whole host of them Dave Roberts (Jockey’s Agent) readily admits to never riding before. This is not to say that punters are the best judges of rides, far from it but it’s the attitude across that sport that can at times stink.
Then we have the usual vitriol that is wheeled out when it comes to animal welfare. Of course some of the animal welfare activists can adopt horrendous tactics and many statements are often ill informed but for those with power and who act as a voice in racing to continuously dismiss and belittle those outside of the sport with genuine concerns do nothing to help racing grow. Instead of preparing to do battle, hoisting up the drawbridge and sticking their nose up at those outside of the gate by lowering themselves to dismissive name calling and labelling all who express animal welfare issues as the same why not do what you can to educate those not lucky enough to be in your precious inner circle and help eliminate their fears through open conversation?
Racing in its structure will always be a rich mans sport and as an industry that relies so heavily upon gambling (wether you want to admit it or not) it’s tailor made to attract the wrong clientele. After all a horse doesn’t talk and certainly cannot blow a whistle.
This division often spills out further between the basic rich and poor divide with the vast majority of people you see on the television, owners, trainers and jockeys often either having a huge bank balance or, just like the thoroughbreds they race, are born into the right stock and have the appropriate breeding credentials. Of course there are exceptions to the rules but when, in my own experience, I’ve been quoted a price of £120 per race day for “sundries”, whatever that means, (on top of training fees, petrol, transport, jockeys fees and more) just for the trainer in question to attend the meeting my horse was going to and for him to see you (the owner) and speak to you in the paddock and spend time with you during the race day (something I’d have hoped would be a given) it’s yet another in a long line of backwards, ridiculous, archaic and money hungry attitudes that are deeply imbedded.
So the big question is what can we do about it? What can we do to save our sport? This question in itself can open up a huge and infinite can of worms so we turn to those in charge of racing in a hope that they can do their upmost to at least clean up its reputation and yet we’re left disappointed and disheartened by their actions or lack there of.
Jockeys found guilty of race fixing still find themselves in the weighing room, trainers found to have taken bribes and race fix still train, owners who have admitted to ensuring a horse doesn’t run to its merits still remain owners and the BHA continues to stand by and watch this great industry fall around us.
In other sports such as football they have implemented the “Fit and Proper Person’s” test which aims to ensure that anyone with a mind to abuse the sport is kept well clear from the terraces.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Italian Match Fixing Scandal took over the headlines in which, of the 19 men found guilty, 16 were banned from the sport and three were sentenced to a minimum two years imprisonment.
Is the fear that if such a test was implemented in racing that there simply wouldn’t be enough people left?
Of course not everyone within racing should be tarnished with the same brush and not for a second do I feel it’s applicable to all but if the public continues to see blatant wrong doing and yet nothing changes then how do we expect to sell racing to the masses and keep it alive?
A famous quote once said “You have to publicly reprimand someone. If there are no consequences, things will not change.” so BHA please, for the sake of one of our biggest loves, take note.
written by Rory Paddock