1 March, 2021

AUTHOR: James Dowen

JUST WILLIAM: Zoe Smith’s Racing Takes

Hello everybody!

This week there’s going to be a change to the column – a new face will be writing it! This will be happening a bit over the next few weeks to shake things up and get some new perspectives on a range of issues. This week I’ve managed to rope in a familiar face to have a go – Zoe Smith, whose work some of you might have seen on her blog. She can be found on Twitter @zoelouisesmithx, so it’s fitting that she starts with that least controversial of topics – social media.


How has social media changed the horse racing world?

For me, social media has played a part in my life for many years, however as each year goes by things seem to slightly change. The sporting world on social media can be a brilliant place but also, a not so brilliant place.

Social media is huge for so many people, so many companies and so many sports. It’s an easy and (mostly) free way to promote, advertise and engage so therefore it’s a great platform, if used correctly. For example, for me, one of the best people on social media within the sport is Fergal O’Brien, who had the much loved Perfect Candidate running on Saturday at Haydock. Paddy Brennan pulled him up and the whole of Twitter were in suspense, hoping for the best. Fergal took to Twitter not too long after and posted a photo of him looking okay and said ‘He seems absolutely fine’.

Another example, on Sunday Owners Group had their horse Wild Max run at Newbury. Unfortunately, he took a fall at the first hurdle, but the Paul Nicholls team, primarily Harry Derham, took to Twitter to advise the 3000+ shareholders that he was up and okay. This is a brilliant way to use social media. You are updating a mass of people who have clear concerns and this is being done very quickly and efficiently and stopping any rumours from circulating. I hope that more jockeys, trainers, owners and even race courses take this up and start to regularly update people at home with what’s happening at the track. Especially as there are no fans there who are able to tweet any updates like there regularly would have been before the pandemic.

However, that being said, social media can be used very negatively and the horse racing world is no different. I see so many hurtful, hateful comments, tweets and messages towards those involved in the sport but also to those who are watching the sport and have a different opinion to their own. I know the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) are stepping forward and trying to investigate those certain accounts, people and messages, but could more be being done? Or aside from that, is it really their job to monitor social media or is it our job as social media users to control our emotions so the BHA can focus on more important issues?

Everybody can get heated and angry, especially where money and gambling is involved. However is it appropriate to tell a jockey to ‘die’ just because they fell from a horse? I feel as though if you reach a point where you are making those very horrible comments then maybe this sport and gambling isn’t for you. You are entitled to an opinion, but to make death threats and start calling people names due to their opinion being different to yours is not okay.

Social media bullying is a real thing. We all see it daily. Some of you reading are victims to it and some of you reading may be people who instigate it. But just take a step back sometimes and think if your actions are really appropriate. If we are trying to introduce people into horse racing, we want the racing community to be a welcoming one. A community where everybody is welcome, no matter what opinions they have, no matter their gender, age, race or anything like that, they should be welcomed into the racing community and as a whole I feel like that’s one part of sport in general that is a letdown.

I know if I was an outsider looking in this past weekend then I would not want to be a part of a community that are sending hateful comments, calling jockeys names and sharing photos and videos of horses falling. We cannot push ITV to show more racing to a wider audience if we then push that wider audience back out of the sport when they come to the online community.

We all have a part to play and I feel like we can all make a huge difference if we come together. A healthy debate is always welcomed, but don’t cross that line where you then start to abuse someone or say hurtful things.

The most important thing to remember is to be kind. You don’t know what someone is going through behind that screen and a comment that seems small to you, could be the final straw to someone else. As my very good friend Kian Burley once said “if you have nothing nice to say then just don’t say anything”.

Amateur Jockey’s Get a No-Go for the Cheltenham Festival

So this week we have been given the news that amateur jockeys won’t be able to take part in the Cheltenham Festival, instead they may be back to riding from March 29th when grassroots sport restrictions are hopefully lifted. So what does this mean for the sport? Jockeys such as Jamie Codd, Patrick Mullins and Derek O’Connor plus many many more won’t be able to ride.

The only option would be for them to turn professional in order to be allowed to ride. Ten time Cheltenham Festival winner Jamie Codd has already made it clear that he is unwilling to do this. Derek O’Connor says it will be a big loss in the Hunters’ Chase but he is staying hopeful that amateurs will return in time for the Aintree festival in April.

Personally, I think this is a sad decision for the sport as a whole, however I do understand why this decision has been made. It should also be noted that this is a decision made by the Government and not a decision made by anyone in the sport such as the BHA. If the rules are the same across the board for every sport then we cannot expect them to change it for horse racing. However, I do see it from the other side that for a big event like the festival should the government give a little bit of leeway as it is only 2 weeks before the restrictions are lifted anyway? It’s open to debate, many will agree with the decision, many will disagree and think they should be given some leeway. Another question this poses, is what will happen to the races on the Cheltenham Festival card that are restricted to amateur jockeys only? Only time will tell, and hopefully we will have more news from the BHA in due course. It will be a shame to see some big names not appear at the Festival this year.

Tiger Roll – Retirement?

After Tiger Roll’s, you could say, under par run this weekend there were many questions thrown around surrounding his fitness, his love of the sport but most of all his retirement.

I think the most asked questions this past weekend and into the beginning of the week was should Tiger Roll retire? With his owners continuously making statements in regards to his Grand National weight, I think people have got very tired of hearing the same conversation. This year, the O’Leary brothers made a statement saying potentially Cheltenham will be where he retires, but then trainer Gordon Elliott has said he is training Tiger Roll with one goal in mind and that is the Grand National. So what happens next?

After a very poor run from him at Navan on Sunday, in the Boyne Hurdle, where he finished 6th, the comments from Gordon and jockey Keith Donoghue were that he didn’t enjoy the ground, but my question on that is, if he didn’t enjoy the ground, which was officially Heavy, then how or why did he win the Grand National in 2018 with an official going of Heavy too? Was it just an excuse from the team? Should Tiger Roll be retired now? Should he be retired at Cheltenham? Or should he go to Aintree and try for 3/3? I think the weights followed by the Boyne Hurdle opened up a lot of questions surrounding him.

One thing we all need to remember is regardless of any decisions made by Gigginstown and Gordon, he has been a brilliant little horse for the sport and he owes us absolutely nothing. Whether he goes to the Grand National or not, whether he wins or not, he will go down in history and I just hope the decision made is the best for him and he goes out of the sport in his own way and not because he has no choice.

Zoe Smith

Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.