Our jockeys spend years absorbing every aspect of a horse’s behaviour at point blank range.From mucking out boxes to grooming and passing delinquent youngsters through the starting stalls.
Surely our Stipendiary Stewards should also be subjected to some of the same training?
The men in suits with pen in hand who police the men in silks with crop in hand – always from a safe distance.
While it’s something that could be wildly imagined at a stretch, it seems an anomaly that we expect individuals, many of whom hardly relate to the quirks and behavioural traits of the thoroughbred, to have any real understanding of the dangers and risks associated with the psyche of the horse.
Yes, horses are likely to kick if you stand behind them. That’s something we all learnt as youngsters.
But basics aside, if you can’t ride a horse and fit a saddle and bridle, what right do you really have to be a Stipendiary Steward and interpret aspects related to the thoroughbred? That includes overseeing objections and interpreting race rides.
The announcement by the National Horseracing Authority earlier this week that KZN jockey Billy Jacobson had been fined R20 000 for swearing at officials and for improper behaviour has led to a public reaction – mostly supporting the jockey on his good character and track record.
But also arguing that in the interests of fairness, both sides of the story should be conveyed in instances where the NHA effectively damages the reputation of an individual with the stroke of a pen.
“There was wrongdoing on both sides in this matter. This is completely unfair and demoralising. Swearing at an individual is not akin to swearing in their presence. Go to any training centre or racecourse. Like it or not, swearing is part of the vocabulary of many jockeys. It goes with the stress – the edge of working and living in the territory,” says a close friend of Billy Jacobson’s who spoke to the Sporting Post.
“It may look glamorous, but a jockey has a very high pressured job. They put their lives at risk every single day. They are constantly under the watchful eye of every spectator, stipe, commentator and punter. They need to earn a living, keep a roof over their heads, feed their families, stay alive, ride under stressful and frustrating conditions, watch their weight – and by constantly having to shed weight to enable them to at least get one ride they deprive their bodies of electrolytes and nutrients,” she added.
She suggested that all of this combined pressure could often put the individual on a knife edge.
“Surely anybody with compassion, basic training and simple common sense would understand this?”
Billy Jacobson was apparently initially approached by the starter in a threatening and intimidating way while passing a horse through the stalls at Summerveld.
“Mr B Ngcobo approached Billy in an unprofessional and threatening manner. He was about to jump a highly strung horse out of the starting pens and Mr Ngcobo tried to engage Billy about something unrelated to the job at hand. This was definitely not the time and place for it. If the Stipe had an issue he should have approached Billy in a professional manner at a suitable time and place with the correct protocols in place. Not while he sat on the back of a fractious animal, endangering the lives of his horse and himself – and others. Even after Billy asked one of the Stipes’ colleagues to please back off, Mr Ngcobo continued to provoke him.”
Our source says that there were other jockeys present who witnessed what happened.
“In Billy’s defence, he can surely argue that he was provoked? Whilst he was on his horse minding his own business and doing his job he was approached in an intimidating and threatening manner by Mr B Ngcobo with no regard to the fragility of the situation or consideration of the potential danger.”
It is felt that if Jacobson has been charged for a contravention of rule 72.1.25 then Mr B Ngcobo, who approached and allegedly antagonised the jockey, needs to be charged accordingly. In fact, only after the approach did Billy react and breach rule 72.1.18.
“And the quantum of the fine is also puzzling. Billy doesn’t even earn that in a month – how do they ascertain the appropriate sum? If these rules are there to protect everyone then they need to see both sides. Rules should be there to protect everyone,” said the source, who confirmed that Billy Jacobson would be appealing and that this interview was provided by a third party without prejudice.
We await the day when the NHA will treat matters of dealing with their errant officials with the same transparent enthusiasm and expediency that they do with jockeys and trainers.
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