7th July 2017
Has the time come for racing to drop the Racing Post? If the public perception of the sport is really so crucial to its future – and I agree that it is – how long can we continue to ally ourselves to a newspaper that regularly presents a negative opinion of the sport and the industry behind it?
Today’s Racing Post was another howler. In the Friday column, on page six, Tom Kerr assured us that he has ‘no personal desire to see the whip banned’. He told us that he does not believe it is cruel and he does not believe that there is an urgent welfare reason for it to be banned.
Eh? The front page of the paper was dedicated to his column and advertised it under the heading ‘Why Racing Must Ban The Whip’ on a background of jockeys, with sticks raised, under a black, cloudy, sky.
He quoted Mark Twain who said, ‘A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes’. Certainly it can, especially if you dress it up with emotive headlines and photographs and put it on the front page of a newspaper.
He pretends to be a supporter of racing and claims that he wants to see racing flourish. He wants us to believe that he wrote this column to warn us of impending danger if we do not accept his views but only an idiot could believe that this article or, in particular, the front page of the paper it was in did anything but harm to the sport of horseracing.
I have just a hint of sympathy for him because he refers to this perception of a cruel sport and says that he believes it to be fundamentally wrong. If that is true then he has been used and manipulated by his editor and those that wrote the headlines, to some extent, but my sympathy is short lived as his writing is dotted with unnecessary emotive embellishments that show his true colours.
He concludes with questions and says, ‘I ask only this: what would really happen if the whip was banned as a coercive tool? Would the sport suffer? Would the spectacle be diminished if a thrilling finish was fought not with whips slapping into the flanks of tired horses, but with hands and heels, nothing but man and horse united?’
I’ll answer, firstly, with a question of my own. Would the horses be less tired? Or did he just slot that word, tired, in to reinforce the suggestion that there is some abuse involved?
I’d say they might be more tired or, at least, more subject to the effect of fatigue. Three hundred plus years of selective breeding have honed the flight response to a quite incredible degree in the thoroughbred horse but that flight response still needs to be initiated. Contrary to what some ignorant people think [Deirdre doesn’t like me using the word ‘ignorant’ and she feels it is too antagonistic, but it is, without doubt, the correct word in this context] – and it seems Tom Kerr is one of them – horses will not race for the honour of winning, the trophy, the pat on the neck, or the extra bowl of oats. They simply do not have the means to understand that however much we want to feel that they know when they have won. They do not.
Dogs might be trained to run for a chocolate drop and a fussing from their owner but they would never run as fast as greyhounds in which the natural instinct to chase prey has been selected for. And horses just wouldn’t do it at all.
Racing would not be ‘just fine’ and the thoroughbred breed would steadily diminish. Genetic selection is a harsh process. It is based on the principles of survival. Frederico Tesio famously said, ‘the thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended, not on experts, technicians, or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby’. He, perhaps, omitted to mention the piece of wood that initiated the flight response and ensured that the horses pushed themselves to their limits.
The word ‘coercion’, as used by Tom Kerr, is an emotive one in this context but let’s be realistic about it, horses will not run their hearts out for reward. Don’t listen to people who tell you nothing would change. They, quite simply, don’t know what they are talking about.