Firstly I sincerely hope I’m wrong but there’s a real danger there will be a point in the future when horseracing is banned in the UK. National Hunt racing will go first, eventually flat racing will follow it. The people that make that decision will not be horse racing fans, the vast number of them will have never had a bet or visited a racecourse. Nevertheless, public opinion will eventually tilt in favour of banning horse racing.
Hopefully that is way past living memory of people reading this when that eventually happens but happen it will. It will happen because there is nothing that can be done to eliminate injury or deaths of horses whilst competing. There will be a point when public opinion will consider that one equine death during an event held for entertainment is unacceptable.
What Nick Rust (pictured) and the BHA are doing is trying to buffer up the defences, foresee the dangers. Their only course of action is to try and help racing eliminate flashpoints which will nudge public opinion from the green side of the dial the sport enjoys now. Each nudge will be a non-reversible tick of the dial towards the red and ultimately the end, trying to predict and prevent each flashpoint, hence tick, successfully postpones the inevitable for the sport we love.
In years to come, use of a whip to encourage horses to run faster will be seen as alien as smoking a post-meal cigar in a restaurant is today. The people that eventually make certain of that ban won’t be horse men or women that know the whip is air cushioned and causes no pain. It will be people watching a race posted on social media where a tired horse is being ‘thrashed’ by a jockey wielding a whip. The facts won’t matter.
And so, it will go on, each with nudge of the flashpoint dial.
Of course, education of the non-racing public is a very important tool to try and slow the tick of the dial too. The reality is, education is never going to be as effective a lever for lovers of the sport as images of an horrific fall, injury or overzealous ride is going to be for those who oppose the sport. Cries that ‘It’s a sport, people and animals get hurt in sport’, ‘Yes there are fatalities, but racehorses are the best-treated animals on the planet’ and ‘If you don’t like it go and watch an animated kids TV show instead’ are not going to help stop the tick-tick-tick-tick…
The BHA continuously looking to ‘improve’ the sport and public perception is seen by many as pandering to people that know very little about horses and horse racing. Anticipation and appeasement of non-racing public opinion with ‘harsh’ punishments for rule infringements do not sit well with the racing community. Hard as it might be to swallow, it’s not the racing community’s opinion that really matters in the bigger picture. It is, however, us, as I include myself in that racing community number, that will ultimately suffer sooner rather than later if it’s not that bigger picture that’s given priority when the hard decisions are being made.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring