Gordon Robinson | Derby disaster and dunces
Damon Runyon, world-famous journalist, raconteur and horse-racing aficionado, postulated two abiding principles.
First: "All horse players die broke." Second (aptly describing punters' raison d'etre for jumping on to that train to bankruptcy): "A story goes with it."
Maybe you're at morning gallops and spot a filly sneaking a four-furlong breeze down the backstretch which you clock at 45 seconds flat. Thereafter, you carefully memorise her markings; follow her home to identify her trainer; then wait. Soon enough, she appears in a maiden at double-digit odds. So you run, (don't walk) to the betting window and bet on her until you hear a voice say, "Bet no more!"
In the race, because her larcenous trainer has deliberately underprepared her to get these odds, she tires in deep stretch and is caught last stride. Although you've lost your stake, you have a story to tell for life.
So, if you're pretending to be a turfite, a good story should come with it. Unfortunately, in his Gleaner guest column (Friday, August 5, 'Speaking from emotions'), David Miller ignored this and, as promised, fulminated against "self-proclaimed experts" bringing the sport into disrepute by, according to him, "challenging the stewards' independence and objectivity and suggesting they were incompetent and lacking knowledge of the [sport's] basic rules."
Courage to name these miscreants deserted David, but he was sufficiently descriptive of Jeffrey Mordecai, part owner of Future King, for him to respond. But The Gleaner (as usual, sacrificing meaning on the altar of space) completely distorted his incisively presented argument with excessive editing. Jeffrey's original response (including two revealing photographs not published by The Gleaner) can be seen at: (https://theterribletout.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/the-truth-about-...16-j...).
I say, without fear of contradiction, stewards' performances over decades (especially in reading race films or conducting enquiries) exhibit bushels of incompetence. The best example of this is the way they went about disqualifying Future King. With regard to Miller's allegation of bringing horse racing into disrepute, I say, also without fear of contradiction, that's impossible. Horse racing is a corrupt cesspool that's been wallowing in disrepute for more than 20 years. NOTHING can cast this industry in a worse light than its reality ever since the departure of Dennis Lalor, local horse racing's best-ever regulator.
Dennis was a hard man. He had zero tolerance for corruption and imposed, as a deterrent, draconian punishment on anyone 'convicted' of corruption. As Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) chairman, Dennis was severe but fair and of impeccable integrity. He applied certain fundamental regulatory principles across the board, regardless of who was accused. His successor, then a recently retired racehorse trainer, started the downward slide which nobody has been able to check, hence today's cesspool. Although, as a young lawyer still seeing horse racing through the roseate chimera of a cloud of idealism, I was often at loggerheads with Dennis' JRC, I now find myself nostalgic for the Lalor era.
David Miller's allegedly altruistic defence of the stewards has been exposed as anything but. A photo of David Miller gleefully leading in BigDaddyKool after the St Leger establishes his "some persons will speak from emotions, some ... from their 'pockets', some ... on behalf of friends" as a classic example of pot calling kettle black.
Over many decades, my public record as racehorse owner, analyst, lawyer for racing professionals (owners, trainers, jockeys and grooms), adviser to finance ministers/promoters and former BGLC executive chairman speaks for itself. I speak for no one (friend or foe); am beholden to no one and nothing save truth. I challenge David Miller to prove otherwise with independent fact bereft of bluster or to show how his public record can ever match mine.
David writes: "When Future King runs sideways for the entire length of the straightaway, causing BigDaddyKool, who was directly beside him, to run sideways, and causing BigDaddyKool's jockey to lose his whip and steer his mount awkwardly without being able to give maximum effort, self-proclaimed experts attempted to convince the public that Future King did nothing wrong ... ."
I suspect David was watching crabs (not horses) through ancient spectacles. If Future King had run as David so emotionally described, he would've been able to serve tea in the Directors' Room. In fact, he entered the straight in lane two and eventually drifted to mid-track. Meanwhile, BigDaddyKool, whose jockey waged a private war with Orpheus' jockey for furlongs (resulting in BOTH losing their whips in the straight), voluntarily drifted right then, bouncing off Orpheus, left and (3/4l behind) came into slight contact with Future King drifting right. Neither Steadman nor Ellis stopped riding at any time, nor did their mounts lose momentum or ground. BigDaddyKool was NEVER "directly beside" Future King.
After losing his whip, Steadman was unable to handle BigDaddyKool, whose challenge petered out. Despite watching the film, the stewards didn't see this vital incident (whips lost), and neither jockey disclosed it to them.
So, who was interfered with or intimidated? Jockeys who never stop riding? Nobody threatened to pass the winner who drew away again close home. If stewards understood that "interference/intimidation", properly so called, can only be by and to jockeys and applied that common-sense interpretation to our cumbersome rules, they'd bring Jamaica in line with international best practices and reduce disqualifications. There's nothing more destructive of the industry than disqualifications overturned on appeal.
In England, absent careless or improper riding, there's no disqualification. The English Rule:
(1) a horse or its rider has caused interference by careless or improper riding; and
(2) the stewards are satisfied that the interference improved the placing of the horse in relation to the horse or horses with which it interfered,
the horse shall ... be placed behind the horse or horses with which it interfered"
N.B.: That foolish concept 'intimidation', doesn't exist.
English stewards have guidelines to ensure decision-making consistency. Stewards must ask themselves:
"1. Where did the incident take place in relation to the winning post?
2. How were the horses involved in the interference going at the time of the incident?
3. How serious was the interference (i.e., how much momentum did the sufferer lose and/or how much ground was lost?)
4. If the sufferer had had an uninterrupted run to the line, might it have finished in front of the interferer?"
If NO, order placings to remain unaltered.
If YES (i.e., there's some doubt), proceed to question 5.
5. How easily did the interferer beat the sufferer?"
Jamaica has no such system, only cowboy stewards allowed to act on whimsy.
David Miller: "... Learned counsel who represented Future King ... claimed Future King's jockey wasn't given the opportunity of explaining his views to the stewards ... . It's my understanding that under the applicable rules, stewards may make decisions without hearing from any other party."
When it suits partisan purpose, principles of justice are abandoned. Where does your "understanding" originate, David? Why not identify the "applicable rules"? Jamaica's disqualification rule [201(1)] provides: "A horse shall be disqualified if he or his rider causes interference or intimidation in any part of the race or if his rider be found guilty of improper, dangerous, reckless or careless riding unless the stewards are satisfied that [this] had no effect on the result ... ."
The stewards didn't even see the jockeys dislodging each other's whips. On what facts did they exercise discretion? How do they decide if Future King affected the result or if other jockeys were agents of their own misfortune? They didn't even know they had a decision to make. Halledeen could have made them aware.
NOTHING IN THE RACING RULES allows any steward to take any decision "without hearing from any other party". Any steward asserting such a right exposes his incompetence and unfitness for the job. The right to a hearing has been every citizen's fundamental constitutional right for more than 100 years. House of Lords, in Board of Education v Rice  A.C. 179:
"In the present instance ... what comes for determination is a matter to be settled by discretion involving no law. ... Sometimes it'll involve matters of law as well as matters of fact ... . In such cases, the board ... will have to ascertain the law and also ... the facts ... . IN DOING EITHER, THEY MUST ACT IN GOOD FAITH AND LISTEN FAIRLY TO BOTH SIDES, FOR THAT IS A DUTY LYING UPON EVERYONE WHO DECIDES ANYTHING ... (my emphasis)."
Through the magic of television/Internet, we watch stewards' enquiries conducted worldwide. Stewards interview ALL affected jockeys; ask them standard questions; and decide after fairly hearing ALL sides. Only in Jamaica are stewards' enquiries conducted behind closed doors, and worse, two objecting jockeys are heard in full while the accused jockey is barred from the room. Disrepute? You betcha!
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.