Best to be in possession of the facts
Mike Deasy suggests why it’s best to be in possession of the facts before making accusations
Carole Cadwalladr is an award-winning journalist who gained praise for exposing the Facebook/Cambridge Analytics data breach in 2018. Her work is something I very much admire.
However, that admiration took a heavy knock after some Tweets she posted on the resumption of British racing. The first on 31 May read:
“I’ve really got to go to bed but everything about this (the government announcing that live sport can resume on 1 June) stinks. The very first sporting event to resume is in @MattHancock’s constituency in sport which funds his office & expenses. REALLY?”
Followed, on 1 June, by:
“I hope someone on Labour front bench is going to ask serious questions about Matt Hancock’s financial & other links to racing industry. Cheltenham Festival was last major sporting event before lockdown. Today, racing is the first to open up.”
As an investigative journalist, Cadwalladr should follow her instincts and look into any MP’s actions which could be compromised by financial support from commercial enterprises.
But, being in possession of some facts before putting her suspicions into the public domain would be helpful. Otherwise, one’s message is seen by people who are only in possession of their prejudices.
So, here are some facts to give any investigation a helpful steer.
Each and every sport was permitted to resume on 1 June if it met the criteria the government published on 30 May. Racing was in a position to commence immediately because it had spent considerable time in preparing to operate within the stipulated guidelines.
Two other sports were also able to get underway on 1 June – greyhound racing and snooker. The dynamics of other sports mean their commencement will follow in due course. Football has a restart date of 17 June after players have had time to train to match-fit levels. Training for rugby union, a contact sport, has now been approved, and cricket plans to resume next month.
Racing’s participants, the horses, were “match-fit” as their training had continued, with government permission, throughout the lockdown. Similarly, many jockeys maintained fitness through riding-out.
Mention of the Cheltenham Festival being the last major sports event to take place before lockdown is a somewhat out of place juxtaposition with Hancock’s constituency, which includes Newmarket.
Cheltenham is for jump horses, and there’s relatively little training of jump horses in Newmarket, albeit that successful race meetings are beneficial to the sport as a whole. The jumps centres are largely in Berkshire, the south-west, and the north, not to mention Ireland, possibly to the benefit of MPs in those areas rather than Hancock in Suffolk.
These points will hopefully assist in any further delving which Cadwalladr might undertake as facts, rather than supposition, will give the findings accuracy and credibility.
Such unfortunate timing
The long-awaited return of the Flat was marred by a fluke accident which resulted in December Second being put down after a high-speed fall when he appeared to clip the heels of another horse. Financial Conduct was subsequently brought down his whose jockey, Jim Crowley, sat out the last two rides. Fellow jockey PJ MacDonald,who also hit the deck, was fit to ride in the last.
With falls on the Flat such a rare event, it was so unfortunate the incident occurred when racing gained media attention as the first professional sport to return after the government lifted restrictions.
Apart from the withdrawal of a couple of horses for refusing to enter the stalls, the remainder of the Newcastle meeting went off pretty much without a hitch.
There weren’t any Group races, nor big betting handicaps, and the meeting was not on ITV, but the tabloids published pull-out racing sections for the occasion.
A cross Mottershead
The Racing Post also made a return in print, with a classic piece from Alastair Down. It also unveiled some tweaks which had been worked on during the shutdown.
There are a handful of design changes, but the most noticeable, and welcome, change is the introduction of The Comment Page. This is now home to the daily columnist, plus a “second opinion” piece and reader’s letters – the latter benefitting from currency which publication limited to Sundays sometimes lost.
And, so far, Betfred’s advertisements have failed to materialise.
The Post also included a report by Lee Mottershead that ITV and the racecourses were on the cusp of agreeing the continuation of ITV Racing being the sport’s free-to-air broadcaster. We seem to have been here before, but it’s good news if right.
Prior to appearing in print, the story was flagged on Twitter as being available to the Post Members’ Club subscribers. This elicited a response from a Dave Metcalf:
“ITV racing free to air and trying to encourage more people to get involved in the sport and you make this article exclusive to rp members who pay? Unbelievable. Does the rp care about the sports (sic) future?”
Mottershead, one of the nicest people in racing’s press room, showed some irritation in his response, possibly because he’s nursing a broken elbow after he and his bike recently parted company:
“It’s also in tomorrow’s newspaper. We don’t give that away for nothing, either. Most of our stories are free to read. Sometimes we reserve for members.
“Why should quality journalism be free? And given the RP has no future if racing has no future, your accusation is very stupid.”
I was chatting with a member of a racecourse’s staff who has been furloughed during lockdown, and has subsequently spent more time with her garden. She’s not blessed with green-fingers, but has hacked back some of the undergrowth. To her surprise, she’s discovered she owns a rose tree.
A jump back
A feature of racing’s return has been 72-hour declarations. This led to the Horseracing Bettors Forum asking what people thought about earlier decs. A poll of over 500 people found that 55% wanted 72-hour decs to stay, whilst 31% wanted a return to 48 hours.
What I’d like is 48-hour declarations for jump racing.
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