Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 26 April 2018

Russell call reflects view of horsemen


Jockey Davy Russell. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Jockey Davy Russell. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Comment: Johnny Ward

Speaking to a trainer last week, one rarely prone to getting especially energised in interviews, it was clear what the views were of those within the sport on Davy Russell's apparent punching of a horse two Fridays back at Tramore.

The trainer defended Russell as if they were blindly in love. And a leading jockey with whom I interacted in recent days pointed out: "A lot will depend on what he says happened and why he did it."

A Twitter poll found that - at least on social media - racing fans were split down the middle, 50-50, on whether or not the Turf Club made the right call in merely cautioning the jockey.

According to trainer Martin Hassett, "the other half know nothing about horses". It was, he said, a "storm in a teacup".

Hassett may be a low-profile trainer but those two comments seem to sum up the view of what Russell (above) did within racing itself to a nicety.

It was in violent contrast to the contention of many that he was guilty of flagrant abuse.

In the event that you are not party to social media, footage captured Russell appearing to punch or jab the Roger McGrath-trained Kings Dolly.

The mare approached the 'show' hurdle - an obstacle jockeys show their horses before a race - a little exuberantly, coming to a halt.

Russell seemingly lost his cool, though there are any amount of people who would argue that he was in control of the situation - telling what one trainer described as a "stupid cow of a mare" to get her act together. Russell, after all, was risking his life riding her in a hurdles races moments afterwards.

The jockey said little publicly, but what he did utter was noteworthy and honest. "The situation with Kings Dolly was an ordinary enough situation. I didn't do anything out of the ordinary.

"I'm not sure everyone on social media quite understands how a thoroughbred racehorse handles at race time. I ride every horse to win, no matter what, and would never do anything to hamper its chances."

Caution At its lightest, his punishment was going to be a caution; at its worst a ban of days.

Interviewed after the referrals committee's decision at Killarney, Turf Club CEO Denis Egan said: "Davy was genuinely remorseful. The video was the key piece of evidence... we spoke to the trainer of the horse, who said there were no ill-effects on the mare. The most important thing is Davy learned his lesson."

In future cases, "the referrals committee has complete discretion".

The last point is key, as the referrals committee essentially reverted to type, taking the easy way out.

If Russell was remorseful when interviewed, that seemed contrary to earlier remarks, and it would imply an admittance that what he did was wrong.

Yet, he got away with striking a horse about the head, a mare which was posing no threat to him, which made an innocent mistake in clambering over the hurdle initially.

Never take racing's appeal for granted - some newspapers no longer carry racecards, remember - and image is important, regardless of what trainers think.

What perhaps was lost in a hysteria that mainly centred on the rather hazy animal rights narrative is that Russell's previous record apparently went out the window. A beautifully kind horseman in races, last year he lost the rag in front of the Clonmel stewards, left the track despite having two rides left and got a 17-day ban.

Its limp in embracing a changing world is reflected by the Turf Club having no Twitter presence, on which anger at Russell was caustic.

On this occasion, its message was simple: you can punch a horse in the head and get away with it, and as far as horsemen are concerned, there is nothing to see here.

Irish Independent

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