You were made the scapegoat for the shambolic introduction of the controversial whip rules when you were Head of Communications at the BHA. Then, as Chief Executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, you successfully argued against them. How much satisfaction did that give you?
There was certainly no satisfaction from the fact that I had been at the BHA and then found myself at the PJA. The satisfaction came from being able to resolve a problem that I, as part of a team, was responsible for creating.
Everyone makes a mistake in life and the first step is to admit it and then try and fix it.
The whip rules were still a hotly debated issue four months after their introduction; it was in everyone’s interests that we were able to resolve it.
It could be argued your situation was akin to a footballer playing against his former club – they are often extra motivated to prove their worth. Can you relate to this?
In the two months between leaving the BHA and joining the PJA I had time as a racing fan and punter to reflect, and I didn’t like seeing the sport I love dragged through the mud.
It wasn’t a case of proving my worth as the new Chief Executive of the PJA. In fact, at the interview for the job, I put forward my ideas of how to resolve the whip problems.
The bottom line was that Paul Bittar had a clear view of how inadequate the rules were, so we were never a million miles apart.
Had he not had a similar view to mine, the final outcome would not have been as simple. There was never any question of claiming the credit.
Did you feel in any way compromised when negotiating with your former bosses on behalf of the jockeys?
No, because I was in discussion with Paul Bittar and he had never been my boss, as he hadn’t started at the BHA when I left.
I was also in talks with John Maxse and I took over from him at the BHA rather than working under him. Actually I find it helpful dealing with former colleagues who I know quite well.
The new whip rules are a damned sight better, though the penalties for the offences are still fairly harsh. But we receive very few complaints and there is now a general acceptance by jockeys of the rules.
Racing undoubtedly looks better and, while I am not a rider of any sort, I think most jockeys would say they are riding better and are less reliant on the whip than before.
Following last year’s Grand National, you criticised RSPCA Chief Executive Gavin Grant for suggesting that the winner should have been demoted due to his jockey’s excessive use of the whip. Yet wouldn’t such a rule put an end to whip misuse overnight?
I criticised Gavin Grant because he was talking nonsense – Daryl Jacob was not in breach of the whip rules on Neptune Collonges.
I think he went two hits over the permitted level but the rule states that the stewards have at their discretion the ability to discount uses of the whip.
That’s what the stewards did, therefore Daryl was not in breach.
I don’t believe a rule would put an end to whip misuse. If ever racing goes down that route we could end up doing away with the whip altogether and I don’t see any justification in that.
You’ll always get instances where jockeys simply make mistakes.
You are on record as saying “the jockeys are my boss”. So how tough is it to keep all jockeys happy all the time? Do the demands of those on the bottom rung of the ladder often conflict with those at the top?
Basically, the top high-earning jockeys down to those who are in it for the love of the game are bound together by a camaraderie witnessed in almost every weighing-room.
But I suppose one element that can be contentious is the issue of jockey changes, which at times can make it difficult to represent them all together.
They are not always as one when a leading jockey switches from one meeting to another and replaces a jockey who has already been booked.
I do wonder whether there should be some sort of compensation paid by the owner to the displaced jockey.
The issue of jockey changes is contentious and can make it difficult to represent them all together
After Frankie Dettori’s drugs violation, you came out and said that the PJA and Injured Jockeys Fund would support him. Should the IJF really be assisting jockeys who break the rules?
It’s not for me to tell the IJF what they should or should not be doing. But I do think it is wrong to turn our backs on jockeys who break the rules if there is a support structure in place to help them.
Also, in cases of jockeys’ mental wellbeing, I believe it is important that the PJA and the IJF, as well as the BHA, are supportive.
The existence of Oaksey House has helped to strengthen links between the PJA and the IJF to the point that we are investigating the viability of moving to Lambourn and joining up with Oaksey House.
Have racing politics always interested you and do you prefer to be wrapped up in that side of the sport rather than with the action on the track?
I don’t prefer the political side of the sport, and deep down wish I had got involved in the equine side when I was young. But politics are very necessary. There are two elements to this job.
First, welfare and the services and advice we offer to our members. Second, the racing politics, lobbying and pushing for changes to rules, regulations and BHA policies.
Through my PJA role I am a Director of the Horsemen’s Group and on the Board of Racing Enterprises Ltd. So there is always a massive amount of racing politics, which can be very frustrating.
But I am hoping that, with Paul Bittar in charge at the BHA, the different factions in the industry will come together more than in the past.
Jockeys aren’t the greatest talkers. Has it been a problem getting your members to open up and express themselves? Are your joint Presidents AP McCoy and Steve Drowne full of ideas?
The change over the past four or five years has been phenomenal, due in no small part to Racing For Change [now Great British Racing], who have done a fantastic job encouraging the jockeys in media training.
As a result jockeys come on and talk on television with far greater willingness.
They have made huge strides promotionally and we have signed a new media rights deal with Channel 4, who will be using jockeys more and more on their programmes and in their promotional work.
It is good for the sport that jockeys are becoming more human, rather than appearing as someone who sits on the back of a horse under a helmet and goggles.
Both AP and Steve Drowne are very supportive but it is not their role to come up with ideas.
How did your fascination with racing start?
I really got into racing in my second year at Nottingham University and started to work part-time for a bookmaker.
They had booths at the City Ground and Nottingham Forest were doing well at the time, so I enjoyed working there.
When I left university I became a betting shop manager and then got a job at the BHB.
How beneficial has the recent 2lb minimum weight rise on the Flat, from 7st 12lb to 8st, proved? How big a problem is the constant wasting among jockeys?
The 2lb rise is just part of a much wider shift in dealing with the issue of jockeys’ weights and the impact that light weights, in particular, have on Flat jockeys.
Going hand in hand with that will be the publication of a minimum riding weight, as well as mandatory bone density scans for new young jockeys, who will also have their weight monitored before they have their first ride.
Undoubtedly wasting and having to survive on such a reduced calorific intake takes a massive toll on the body, and particularly so mentally. There is much more focus on nutrition and fitness at the racing schools now.
The recent Jockey Academy, trialled by the Injured Jockeys Fund at Oaksey House, focused on conditioning, fitness, nutrition and how long a jockey can prolong his or her career.
What is the biggest problem facing jockeys – and indeed racing?
Prize-money, which hopefully will be increased significantly by the Sunday Bonus Races and the introduction of the British Owners and Breeders Incentive Scheme.
Jockeys receive 7% of winning prize-money and 3% of place money. In Ireland, the UAE and the United Stakes, jockeys get 10%. Jockeys have asked me to try to address this situation.
Finding a funding replacement for the levy has to be the number one overall priority for the sport.
But this is so difficult because racing has no power to establish itself over the bookmakers, whose operators at the top have always been much sharper than those in charge of racing.
It is good that jockeys are becoming more human, they’ve made huge strides promotionally
Some people believe there is too much low grade racing in Britain and that the focus should be on quality, not quantity. What is your view?
As a punter I think there’s too much racing, but, from the jockeys’ standpoint, the more racing there is the more rides there are to go round.
There has always been low quality racing and always will be because there are more horses at the bottom than at the top.
With the funding mechanism as it is and picture rights being so important, if you just scrapped 200 fixtures, I don’t believe there would be adequate funds from betting turnover to offset the loss of income from those lost fixtures.
This summer will see jockeys riding at two or three meetings a day as they strive for winners, travelling all round Britain. Is this safe?
The BHA has addressed the issue by restricting jockeys to no more than nine meetings a week.
They were concerned that jockeys were pushing themselves too hard, regularly riding at two meetings a day and making mad dashes between courses.
The driving and travelling, combined with a restricted diet, makes for a demanding lifestyle. But the rewards and winning races is what jockeys are all about.
Some jockeys do have the benefit of a driver, while others share lifts.
Is there one thing above all else you would like to achieve for the jockeys?
There are lots of things I’d like to achieve on their behalf.
We have already secured an increased media rights deal that will allow us to use that money to offer enhanced support services for our members.
I am pursuing regulatory and financial matters and, in particular, the mental side of welfare.
You started off in marketing with the BHB – how good a job has Racing For Change done since its inception?
I think Racing For Change made some significant mistakes early on. The name, which has changed to Great British Racing, was wrong as it suggested so much more than the marketing and PR arm that it is.
No one can ever argue that the ‘Bill and Ben’ promo was anything but a disaster.
Having said that, I think they have done a fantastic job in the promotion of the sport, resulting in more exposure on television and in the papers and been extremely successful in establishing British Champions’ Day.
However, I’d like to see more focus on the racegoer and punter, providing information such as weighing of horses and sectional times.
Did the BHA need someone like Paul Bittar to come in and revitalise it?
I think it was a big mistake when Paul Roy and Nic Coward announced that the BHA was going to step back and simply take a regulatory role.
The BHA has a role to play in the running of the sport and I am delighted Paul Bittar has come in and adopted that position. He is the right person for the job, extremely smart and clever.
He knows and loves racing and is a good listener. If he disagrees with you he has no qualms in saying so. You know where you stand with him.
He’s got plenty of challenges ahead but he’s made a fantastic start. I think he is going to be a very good leader of the sport.
As you are married with two young children, how do you find the time to tweet so much (approaching 8,000)?
I have made a conscious effort to tweet less! I tweeted a lot more when I was at the BHA because it was inclined to come with the job.