In almost all walks of life, change is needed to fuel progress and one change that is now looking racing squarely in the eye in the light of recent events is the concept of professional stewarding.
It would be neither practical nor desirable for racing to try to replace those numerous amateur stewards with professionals. Largely, the amateur stewards do great work, but most would not want to be professionals even if offered the opportunity.
If not for any other reason than one of cost, a change to professional stewarding would have to be accompanied by a much more radical approach to the whole process of scrutinising how races are run than currently exists.
It seems illogical that those who look at races and make judgements on them should have to be positioned on the racecourse
It seems entirely illogical in today’s world that the men and women who look at races and make judgements on them should have to be positioned on the racecourse where the events actually take place. If, as it appears, almost all of the scrutiny of races takes place on TV screens anyway, you have to ask why these people can’t be located centrally anywhere in the country.
It seems to me that if the people – let’s call them race-readers – all worked from the same location under the auspices of the BHA and did the job virtually every day, two benefits would quickly emerge.
One would be that only a fraction of the number of people who now carry out the work as amateurs would be required to do the job as professionals; and the other would be that these people, whose job it would be to scrutinise races day-in-day-out, would develop such an expertise in the art of race-reading and making judgments on whether or not a jockey has broken the rules, that the element of inconsistency in judgements would largely disappear.
A team of, say, 25 expert full-time race-readers working at a central location would surely be enough to cover virtually every day’s racing. They would be trained in every aspect of the job and hold a formal BHA qualification.
This is an idea for its time. Already we have virtually every race run in the UK televised by either RUK or ATR and covered by Racetech’s camera patrol. I am not clear as to whether this would be enough to obtain a sufficiently good view of a race for professional race-readers but I do know that developments in camera and internet technology make virtually anything possible within this sphere.
Certainly, it is difficult to believe the naked eye of a few people on the racecourse could ever match what is potentially available from pictures delivered electronically – especially as carrying this out from a central location would also allow the best available equipment to be deployed.
There may be some drawbacks but none of them insurmountable. During the current Flat season the TV viewing public have enjoyed the drama of stewards’ enquiries with jockeys arguing their cases. But there is no reason why this could not continue because there would always need to be at least one BHA representative on the racecourse and he or she would obviously be in constant communication with the race-reading team.
Introducing this radical approach to stewarding does not require a massive initial investment. The idea could be phased in gradually, starting with a few low grade meetings and then moving on to bigger events so that over two or three years all meetings were dealt with in this way. It would then enable the BHA to squeeze out the inevitable early glitches while spreading the cost.
Racing has been talking about professional stewarding for a long, long time, but has consistently shied away from it, first because of Jockey Club tradition and then because of cost. But this is now an initiative that the BHA should grasp. Not for the sake of change but for the sake of progress.