It used to be that India was a rather convivial place for British jockeys to spend the winter. A warm welcome, warm weather, the prospect of a bit of pocket money to be earned and – if the old photographs are to be believed – the only downside being the compulsory wearing of budgie-smuggler swimming trunks at the poolside.
Now, though, it seems there are different reasons for the tears to come. India has become less of a working holiday haven for our little men, more a threat to their very livelihood.
First there was Richard Hughes, when the champion jockey was banned for 50 days for apparently failing to comply with a trainer’s instructions at Mumbai last year. Then we have the current case of Derby-winning jockey Martin Dwyer, who faces the prospect of eight months absent if a suspension incurred for an alleged ‘not off’ ride – also at the old Bombay – is upheld.
India has become less of a working holiday haven for our little men, more a threat to their very livelihood
Such penalties could be laughed off and left behind on the runway if they pertained just to India. But the biggest democracy is a member of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and decisions there are apparently binding amongst fellow IFHA members, such as the British Horseracing Authority. Dwyer, in effect, faces a worldwide ban.
The BHA can hear appeals, but have a poor record in this department. Hughes’ punishment was rubber-stamped by them. The only leniency, according to archivists, came when Kevin Darley, hardly a Jack The Ripper of the saddle, had a suspension diluted several years ago. History shows they are not the rescue team Dwyer requires.
The jockey may have used up his Scouse humour in this matter already. An original ban came when his mount Ice Age, the favourite, swerved violently right across the track at Mahalaxmi racecourse, ultimately finishing a close third. The on-course crowd went bonkers and barricaded the jockeys’ room for three hours.
Dwyer was possibly guilty of employing his whip in the wrong hand, but it is hard to construct an argument that he deliberately threw the race. A careless or reckless riding judgement would have sufficed.
When the rider appealed this line – along with the revelation that his mount had bled – his penalty was perversely increased, apparently for his cheek in questioning the original decision. India is not a place where the privileged are used to having their sagacity challenged.
It does not augur well for Dwyer’s second Indian appeal or mercy from the BHA. Our rulers may well be given a choice between a mistaken body of powerful men from a similar background to them and an unfortunate jockey from Liverpool. Who will they choose?
The only way to go
I met many old friends during my working time in India, not least a fellow athlete I first came across when he won the Predominate Stakes at Goodwood. Razeen was in a rather different setting for our reunion.
Gurgaon is a feeder city for Delhi and a monochrome place where water and hope are rather scarce until you reach the incongruously placed Usha Stud. Stepping onto its relatively verdant territory is rather like the moment when the Wizard of Oz switches from drab Kansas to multicoloured Munchkinland.
Dorothy in this case was the redoubtable Ameeta Mehra, the owner of the stud, who showed me to the paddock where the antique Razeen was pottering. By then he was one of the last-known Northern Dancers at work.
Not long afterwards Razeen died, but he did not go quietly. “Razeen’s great spirit left his body on 16th of February 2011,” his Usha obituary ran. “He lies here under the Kadam tree, while his spirit oversees the fortunes of Usha, and he lives on through his great daughters. He went like a hero, in the covering yard, with his working boots on… peacefully and painlessly at the age of 24.
“His face and eyes were calm and resplendent. He left only when he was sure that the future of Usha was secure in the hands of his successors China Visit and Multidimensional. Razeen is a legend… a horse with greatness who lived and died with dignity… he will be remembered as the greatest stallion in the history of Indian racing.”
If you have to go this seems to be the way to do it. This sort of fanfare and these sort of circumstances.