Why that old mantra, the horse comes first, must be lived as well as spoken | Horse Racing News

Alan Crowhurst

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Sir Mark Todd was caught on film behaving badly towards a horse

Alan Crowhurst

The Front Runner is Chris Cook’s morning email exclusively for Members’ Club Ultimate subscribers, available here as a free sample.

In Monday’s email Chris reflects on the Sir Mark Todd fallout – and subscribers can get more great insight, tips and racing chat from Chris every Monday to Friday.

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So here we are again, fellow fans of horse racing, wincing, cringing and bowing our heads in dismay because one of the sport’s licensed personnel has been caught on film behaving badly towards a horse. Sir Mark Todd is nothing like as prominent in our sport as Gordon Elliott, so this story is unlikely to have the same impact as the one that surfaced around this time last year, but it will certainly have an impact.

For all that Todd has been a revered figure in eventing and in his native New Zealand, he is much less well known in racing and perhaps some of you barely knew who he was until now. But that won’t matter to the wider world. To them, he’s just another racing insider who says the right things in public and does something else in practice.

The story of him repeatedly beating a horse took up two-thirds of a page in the Mail On Sunday and was picked up by the Sunday Telegraph, which ran it at the top of a roundup column on page 2. The headline described Todd as a showjumper but the second paragraph related that he is a racehorse trainer.

That’s why I think the BHA will simply have to put him through a disciplinary process for bringing the sport into disrepute. Granted, the incident in question does not appear to involve a racehorse but it does involve a licensed trainer treating a horse so badly that he has issued an apology as soon as the video has surfaced.

As to the eventual punishment, I can wait and see. The urge to lash out in anger in these circumstances should probably be resisted. While some may scoff at the suggestion, the reputational damage to Todd will be significant, will surely translate into actual financial loss and may matter more to him than anything the BHA would be likely to do.

But the broader point which absolutely must be internalized by everyone who works in racing is that incidents like this must stop if the sport is to have the future that it expects. Even at the rate of one case per year, they are enough to cement in the public mind the idea that racing people cannot simply be trusted to treat their animals with appropriate respect.

You and I may know different. We may have been lucky enough to know stable staffers or to have spent time around racing stables, seeing first-hand the very high standard of care given to racehorses, which I firmly believe to be the widespread norm in the industry.

But non-racing folk will not be interested in any context or explanation we might offer. They will think to themselves that anyone who knows racing all that well must be invested in the game and no longer capable of looking at it with a critical eye.

For a minority sport, it’s a dangerous situation, not least because of the populist age in which we live. Any politician wishing to distract attention from other matters could seize on racing as an easy target and call for regulations or restrictions, secure in the knowledge they will be upsetting only a small percentage of the electorate. Many voters may interpret such a stand as evidence of high principles.

At a more basic level, such stories can become a reason to stay away for people who might otherwise act on their interest in racing. They are discouraging for existing fans, who may get fed up of having to justify their interest to non-committed friends.

All these factors add up to an absolute need for everyone in racing to show racehorses the kind of respect we know perfectly well they deserve. That old mantra, the horse comes first, must be lived as well as spoken, by everyone. Any lapse can be recorded and the evidence circulated years later, perhaps after some falling-out between those involved.

There are implications for the licensing process, which ought to become more stringent to reflect the increased risk that any single instance of bad behavior can become very costly. Every new trainer allowed to set up is being entrusted with the sport’s reputation. It is appropriate to make sure they’re aware of that responsibility and can cope with it.

Racing’s opponents have it easy these days. Damaging material is simply turning up on social media. Horsemen urgently need to stop feeding the beast that wants to eat them.


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The Front Runner is our latest email newsletter available exclusively to Members’ Club Ultimate subscribers. Chris Cook, a four-time Racing Reporter of the Year award winner, provides his take on the day’s biggest stories and tips for the upcoming racing every morning from Monday to Friday


FIRST PUBLISHED 10:00AM, FEB 14 2022

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