Several senior jockeys at Kenilworth on Saturday refused to continue riding after the fifth race and were accused of intimidating junior riders booked to take their place, writes Michael Clower.
There were angry scenes in the weighing room at Kenilworth on Saturday when several senior jockeys refused to ride – and accusations of intimidation when junior riders, booked to take their place, reneged on their commitments.
Rain started to come down about an hour before racing and continued, almost unabated, for the rest of the afternoon. After half the ten races had been run a delegation of jockeys went to the stipes and said the course was unsafe.
“The riders protested in the presence of trainers but an initial decision was made to continue the meeting,” said Nick Shearer, acting senior stipe and himself a former jockey. “We did our best to keep it going but the vast majority of jockeys were of the opinion that the track was unsafe and so the rest of the meeting was then abandoned.”
Those attempting to keep the show on the road included fellow stipe Cecil van As and apprentice riding master Terrance Welch who booked less established riders to replace the big names – no easy task when trainers had also to be consulted. But their efforts were thwarted when a number of those accepting rides announced that they had changed their minds after returning from the jockeys’ inner sanctum – and a presumably hostile reception.
A few of the trainers promptly gave vent to their annoyance, and it is easy to understand why. Getting a horse ready for a race takes weeks, if not months, of hard work and to have it thwarted by the last man in the chain must be infuriating.
They were faced with replanning everything and explaining to the owners footing the bill that it could be many weeks before there is another suitable race.
Jockeys refusing to ride when conditions underfoot turn nasty is nothing new in Cape Town even though, curiously, it is much rarer in the wetter parts of Europe where they frequently ride on atrocious ground.
That said, it is the jockeys whose necks are on the line and who are in the best position to judge whether the weather and the ground are making their job even more dangerous than usual.
Riding a highly strung thoroughbred at speeds of up to 60 kilometres an hour calls for guts of a special kind and, if jockeys believe that conditions are increasing their chances of being pitched into a deadly sea of flailing metal-tipped hooves, their views have to take priority over all else.
If any of them were killed or paralysed, after being put under pressure to ride, South African racing would never be allowed to forget it.
Ed – From the official Stipes Report:
After the running of the fifth race the Jockeys lodged a protest and a Panel constituted in terms of the Rules, heard evidence from two riders, two trainers and the racecourse manager. The Panel agreed to continue racing – however the majority of Jockeys were adamant that the conditions had deteriorated and that the track was unsafe. In consultation with the Race Meeting representative a decision was made to abandon the remainder of the race meeting.