I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING OUT of the ORDINARY - DAVY RUSSELL
Irish Racing must now attempt to recover from a bad week foisted upon them by an inept, not fit for service disciplinary panel and then made worse by the lies and deceit from jockey Davy Russell. Please read and watch below but first we must acknowledge the line that came from the jockey himself when, after being notified that an investigation was underway, he claimed that he "didn't do anything out of the ordinary." Ye Gods, only a few of his apologists mates agreed with him. The RSPCA vehemently disagreed as David Muir, equine consultant for the organisation said: "Punching horses in the head is obviously not acceptable and the penalty needs to be clear. If jockeys do that then they need to be severely punished." The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also said it was "appalled by the incident."
IRISH LUKEWARM when it comes to INTEGRITY OF RACING
Initially the Irish Turf Club announced that jockey Davy Russell had received only a caution from its disciplinary panel for punching his horse in the head with a clenched fist before a race at Tramore on the 18th August. This mindless act of violence was closely witnessed by three other jockeys. The disciplinary panel damaged Irish Racing by perpetuating a worldwide feeling that the Irish are lukewarm when it comes to the integrity of racing. Thankfully after an internal review the Turf Club said the Registrar of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee had asked the appeals body to look at the findings of the referrals committee "on grounds that it was unduly lenient." The appeals body found Russell to be in breach of Rule 272 in that he "acted in a way that was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horse racing"
DISCIPLINARY PANEL NOT FIT for PURPOSE
There was widespread astonishment on racing’s social media and internet forums on the original decision and naturally so. They had witnessed live pictures of a jockey punching a nervous flight animal in the head with a clenched fist and then incurring no meaningful punishment at all from the authorities. Had the panel dealt with the situation sensibly, swiftly and fairly there would not be the furore there is today. There is an urgent need to review their involvement and see whether they should officiate again in future given their understanding of horses and the image of horse racing!
FROM PUNCH to SLAP WITH a SHRUG of the SHOULDERS
According to the official report on the hearing, published on Monday, Russell told the panel that "he managed to get the horse pulled up and used his FIST to hit the horse on the soft part of her neck, just behind the head to make the horse CONCENTRATE. He had his stick in his hand when he did this. He said he would have slapped the horse if he hadn't had the stick in his hand." By the time Russell gave an interview to At The Races a couple of hours later he seemed to have forgotten he had a whip and described the punch as a slap.
VIOLENCE MISINTERPRETED by the GENERAL PUBLIC & the STEWARDS AGREE!
Every racing authority including Ireland promise: “the welfare of the horses is paramount” and this ghastly situation was made worse by Denis Egan, the Turf Club’s chief executive when he suggested afterwards that he had “absolutely no doubt Russell will do it again”. We take his opportunity to thank him for his assurances but as we understand things Russell nonchalantly said to At The Races: "It was an unfortunate incident that maybe got misinterpreted by the general public. That is the way the stewards felt and they were happy with the inquiry." So, according to Russell, he and the stewards understood why it was necessary to punch the horse but the public did not?
RUDE is CLEARLY WORSE than PHYSICAL VIOLENCE
The two comments seem at odds with each other though we have to admit he was not punished for punching the horse but for damaging the reputation of horse racing. The same jockey was banned for 14 days by the Irish Turf Club for being rude to a steward and this sends a clear message around the world that being rude to someone is a three times worse offence than striking a horse! These facts confirms our view that Ireland’s regulator lags miles behind its British counterpart when it comes to understanding the importance of perception in an incident such as this. We are also reminded that we cannot disregard the internet and a five-second clip of a jockey punching a horse before a race can now go viral before the race itself has finished. It can be expected to pop up in racing-related Google searches for years to come, and it would at least do something to minimise the damage if the same search highlighted a suitable punishment for the rider concerned. We believe a six-month ban from the sport is appropriate.
IF YOU WANT A HORSE to CONCENTRATE - PUNCH IT!
If such a high-profile and experienced jockey as Russell can punch a horse in the head and to all intents escape without sanction it does a disservice to the sport not only in Ireland but beyond. Finally, how does punching a horse with a closed fist help a flight animal to concentrate? We have met Monty Roberts on two occasions and once spent the best part of an afternoon with him and he repeated a dozen times violence towards a horse is absolutely futile and the worst thing an owner, trainer or rider can do. At no time did he say that if you want a horse to concentrate punch it in the head.
RUSSELL HAS PREVIOUS with this MARE
Russell has previous with this horse and our immediate hope is that owner Ms A Brislane does not let him ride the mare again. Owners, trainers and riders are taught from a young age never to strike a horse in the face and for good reason – the horse may become head shy, which creates a whole host of other issues for the future. We note that when the mare won her Maiden Hurdle at Tramore in June she was ridden by Russell then and he was suspended after that race. She was well on top at the winning line but the stewards found Russell in breach of rule R(10)(3)(e) and R10(4) and suspended him for one race day with reference to his use of the whip in the closing stages. Our guess is the stewards misinterpreted the use of the whip.
TIME TO SAY SORRY and THEN MAKE A PROMISE
Finally, one is always disappointed when apologists crawl out of the woodwork. There have been a few over this incident and some seek to compare animal cruelty in general with the despicable actions of Russell. After he was found guilty the jockey was reported as being emotional outlining the impact the controversy has had on himself and his family, and he was critical of media coverage describing some of it as “disgraceful.” Since then he has shown absolutely no signs of remorse, in fact he is blaming the media for all his woes. It is unlikely he will admit responsibility now which means there is no sympathy from this quarter. In the media his actions will resurface again and again in the future thus tainting racing every time it happens, all we can hope is that the racing authorities adopt a zero tolerance against mindless violence to horses...