Non-triers in horse racing
Non-triers in horse racing has surfaced again in recent weeks following a race at Warwick on the 8th November 2019 and subsequent events.
Jockey Liam Heard who rode Little Rory Mac was found guilty of being in breach of the ‘non-triers rule’ and suspended for 10 days for ‘failing to ride his mount in such a way that he could be seen to ask for real or substantial effort to obtain the best possible placing’.
I wanted to write this piece, while fully aware that there is an undertone in some horse racing circles that it’s better to keep the subject of non-triers quiet.
It angers me, mildly, that non-triers are a somewhat taboo subject, and I thought long and hard about how to write this and why.
Non-triers damage the image of horse racing
Why does it bother me?
On a personal betting front, it doesn’t. I’ve learned to avoid getting involved when certain connections have a runner. Assessing a race is about assimilating all the information on a runners chance and estimating that chance against the odds. Why bother, when the one piece of key info is not in your domain, ‘connections are going to cheat, or not’.
I had no financial interest in Warwick race. My motives for writing this piece are not fuelled by ‘pocket talk’.
It bothers me because it attracts adverse attention and damages the integrity of horse racing. ‘Cheating, non-triers and horse racing’ are clickbait for the headline writers outside of the sport and interested only in the number of readers over integrity.
Investors in the sport, be that with their effort, time, money……lose confidence and for the future that can only be damaging for everyone concerned.
You only need to look at the cycling world and Russian sport. I only have a passing interest in either. Though from the periphery, if you could poll views from the general public on these two sports, I’m sure ‘cheating’ would crop up in the popular themes? Not an image racing wants.
I would not be an advocate of cheating in any form, but you have to accept that in all walks of life it has been and will go on happening. Anywhere there are money and humans involved someone is likely to be behaving dishonestly for gain.
Little Rory Mac's running at Warwick
Back to events at Warwick on the 8th November.
Under Rule 37, often referred to as the ‘non-triers rule’, Liam Heard was found guilty of not trying and rightly was served with a punishment. The purpose of this rule is to investigate and apportion the appropriate action. The hope is that stops a recurrence in the future.
Rule 37 - Riding a horse in a race
1 – A Jockey must, and must be seen to:
1.1 – Ask their horse for timely, real and substantial efforts to achieve the best possible position; and
1.2 – Take all other reasonable and permissible measures throughout the Race to ensure the horse is given a full opportunity to achieve the best possible position.
2 – A Person must not prevent or try to prevent a horse from obtaining the best possible position.
Stewards Report Warwick 8th November 2019
“An enquiry was held into the running and riding of LITTLE RORY MAC (IRE), ridden by Liam Heard and trained by Henry Oliver, which was held up towards the rear of the field and appeared to be tenderly handled from leaving the back straight, before staying on in the home straight to finish sixth, beaten by 18¾ lengths.
The rider and the trainer were interviewed and shown recordings of the race; the Veterinary Officer reported that two post-race examinations of the gelding failed to reveal any abnormalities
The rider stated his instructions had been to drop LITTLE RORY MAC (IRE) in and get the gelding settled as LITTLE RORY MAC (IRE) has a history of racing keenly.
He added that despite the strong pace on this occasion the gelding was quite keen throughout the early and middle stages and made several jumping errors in the back straight.
He further added that LITTLE RORY MAC (IRE) had blown up approaching the home turn and thereafter he felt it prudent to hold the gelding together in order to finish its race off.
The trainer confirmed the instructions and stated that he was satisfied with the ride given, taking into account LITTLE RORY MAC (IRE)’s racing manner and jumping errors, before adding that the gelding is a nervous and immature type and, in his opinion, LITTLE RORY MAC (IRE) had run on past beaten horses.
Heard was suspended for 10 days for failing to ride his mount in such a way that he could be seen to ask for real or substantial effort to obtain the best possible placing”. BHA STEWARDS REPORTS
The BHA lays out step by step guidelines including the questions for the Stewards to ask in establishing their evidence for the enquiry.
- Was the horse asked for “… timely, real and substantial effort?”
- Was it ridden to obtain the best possible position?
- Were all other reasonable and permissible measures taken throughout the Race to ensure the horse was given a full opportunity to achieve the best possible position?
- If the answer to any of these questions is NO, was the explanation given by either the rider or trainer an acceptable reason?
Where I believe the Stewards could better serve horse racing’s customers is to provide the answers to these steps in their Stewards Report. I understand the Stewards Report is a summary, but for openness and visibility of consistent implementation of the rules it would be beneficial to see how they reached their conclusions.
Given the Stewards handed out a ban to Liam Heard you can assume from the report that the rider and trainers explanations were not accepted?
It gets interesting when you get to the level of sanction. The BHA guidelines state.
“In order to assist in deciding upon the level of sanction, the Chief Steward will ask the Stewards whether the conduct was negligent or intentional”.
Further guidance is offered on this
“The line between intentional and negligent conduct can be illustrated for many cases by the example of a rider who appears to be doing the opposite of what you would expect a rider in his circumstances to be doing and cases where the rider is simply not doing enough”.
From the length of ban imposed under the BHA rules you can assume the rider was deemed ‘negligent’. Whether you agree with that will depend upon your interpretation of the ride. My point is, it could be clearer. If the Stewards have reached this decision then why not show how. People want to see fair and consistent delivery. It comes back to my opening point about ‘non-triers being a somewhat taboo point’. For the industry to thrive it needs to do better.
Market Rasen 5th December 2019
The Warwick running of little Little Rory Mac caught the attention of those close to racing, but nothing more. The suspension was handed out and we move on.
Subsequently, Little Rory Mac ran at Market Rasen on the 5th December, a race he won. Nothing untoward, he appeared to win on merit.
What caused a stir was the owner briefly changing his Twitter avatar to a picture of a ‘handbrake’!!! By all accounts he won a decent amount of money too, good luck to him, in reality, that’s what a lot of us here are trying to do.
Battle against the Bookmakers
There are no rules in racing about posting images of car parts of your choice on Social media, but posting an image of a ‘handbrake’ on Twitter is ill-judged at least.
In the ‘battle against the bookmakers,’ there is a fine line between hero and villain. Punters in general will side with the smart punter who has managed to have one over the old enemy and relieve the bookies of a few pounds.
Several successful gamblers from the near past had a cult-like status with punters. While they were respected for their monster gambles and taking down the bookmakers, they held no regard for their followers. Possessing information not available to the masses and those who form the betting markets is how they made their money. It’s an edge you are not going to give away.
Had Social media been around back then, I very much doubt they’d be flaunting it on Twitter!!
Working within the rules of racing
Let’s not be naive here, I’m aware that daily that there will be horses not running to their optimum.
Operating a handicap system will always lead to horses true merit being disguised. Getting a horse onto a winnable handicap mark is key for its chance of winning. Running a horse over an inappropriate trip or on ground conditions that don’t suit are some of the ways to manage a horses handicap mark and all within the rules.
There is nothing wrong here and undoubtedly it is a tactic regularly employed. The horses may well be running to obtain their best finishing position, it’s just that they are not at their ‘optimum’ under the prevailing conditions.
Technically, running an unfit horse is against BHA rules.
‘If a race is used to school or condition a horse, a Trainer shall be responsible unless the Trainer can demonstrate that the jockey was given the necessary instructions’.
It’s impossible to police and very subjective to try and determine a horses fitness on appearance. A starting point would be the mandatory weighing of all racehorses on the racecourse before competing?
British racing is notoriously slow to embrace technology and change. Taking the opposite view, does horse racing need its equivalent to VAR ruling its thumb over the sport?
There are plenty of trainers who have made a success operating between these parameters. My personal view, it forms part of the wonderful puzzle that makes form reading and betting so interestingly complex.
Will non-triers be eradicated from horse racing?
Connections work within the rules legitimately. Those who chose to operate outside the rules face the investigation of the Stewards.
Opinions by definition differ. Viewing races from a macro level, I only have previous form and the visual impression of a race to form my opinions, and that can be dangerous.
I’ll add that I’m not a casual racing viewer, I don’t know the exact number of races I watch each year but, I’d safely say that number is in the thousands and I back my opinion on race reading. The stewards have access to more micro info to form their opinions and base their decisions.
Are the stewards consistent and are sanctions tough enough?
The quality of the Stewards decision-making post enquiry is key to the ongoing integrity of horse racing.
Consistency of when an enquiry is called is needed. On fairly regular occasions I see runnings where I feel the Stewards are entitled to at least show an interest and ask connections a few questions, though maybe, for whatever reason don’t. A more professional and stringent approach is needed.
I’d question whether the consequences for those found in breach of the non-triers rule is harsh enough to deter a repeat?
Liam Heard received a 10-day ban. I’m all for putting in place a marker and giving someone a chance to right their ways. The question then moves across to the BHA’s rules and sanctions. If he has been found guilty of not trying, which he has, is the sanction appropriate to satisfy the confidence of the sports users?
I care deeply about this sport, I’d even go to say that I’d put in front of most other things that I have anything to do with.
While it annoys me that an image of non-triers or cheating is associated with horse racing, I think it’s inconceivable that we’ll ever get to a point where non-triers are completely eradicated from the sport.