Jockeys Not Always The Bad Guys

September 17, 2021

When I first saw that South African jockey JP van der Merwe had been suspended from riding for 12 months by Singapore racing authorities, a couple of thoughts ran through the mind, writes Gary Lemke for

Among them were, “he must have done something terribly heinous to lose his licence – and income – for 12 months” and “our (SA) racing Stipes would never mete out that kind of punishment”.

So, there were only two things to do. The first was to watch the race and the second was to see what the Singapore Stipes had banned him for. In their report they said, “he failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to ensure that his horse was given full opportunity of winning or of obtaining the best possible placing. From the 400m until the 150m, he failed to ride his mount with sufficient vigour and determination when at all times it was reasonable and permissible for him to do so. When deciding on a penalty, the Stewards took into account the serious nature of the charge, his record and his personal circumstances.”

As a racehorse owner myself I can assure you that there have been countless occasions when the verdict has been that the jockey “butchered” the ride. Often those comments have been spot on. I also honestly think that jockeys are more “willing” to produce a moderate (poor?) ride on a horse owned by a “small” owner rather than one of the big hitters in the industry.

Which is a pity in that it tells the story that a jockey places some owners higher up the food chain than others, and therefore feeds into the narrative that “some clients are more important than others”. I really hate that approach, although there is no escaping it. As an owner you really do have more chance of getting 100 percent commitment from a jockey, every time, if you have the influence of instructing your trainer not to use the services of that jockey again, if you feel he has deliberately “butchered” the chances of your horse in a race.

For the rest of us, it’s a case of “that’s racing” and you carry on paying your monthly bills.

So, I looked at the ride that Van der Merwe gave Fast And Fearless and then looked at the comments below. Most of which were critical of the jockey, and on face value, he didn’t give it a good ride. But, to be banned for a whole year? Completely out of touch with reality and overly harsh. You can’t take a jockey’s entire income away from him and his family for giving a mount a poor ride.

How many of us have a poor day at the office, and what are the consequences for that poor day? 

Even at the end of the scale, if a doctor makes a poor decision with a patient’s health that leads to a catastrophic event, that doctor isn’t deprived of a job for a year.

However, one comment from Chris Swart on the Sporting Post thread offered balance.

“The most important aspect and defence in this affair should be the tracked trip report. JP drawn wide (out of his hands) and forced to drop out and wide for a clear run, covered way more ground than the winner. That difference narrows that winning margin and what decided the outcome. He didn’t have any control of his draw, the pace (very significant in the outcome) and other riders inside him round the turn. He took the clearest option and got his horse into the best place considering what was against him. Nothing untoward.”

Even the casual punter will blame the jockey in the immediate aftermath of a result without really understanding what transpired during a race. That’s not to suggest jockeys are necessarily innocent. They have the ability to get “boxed in”, to get “trapped wide”, to “come too late”, to think a horse might have something wrong during a race … they are the pilots and therefore the most important and influential piece of the jigsaw.

But, they are also human, and even those who might be found guilty of “pulling” a horse deserve education on the subject and the consequences of their actions, rather than to be publicly tarred and feathered and lose their income.

GGGaming sponsors Bass Racing, the in-form stable with Candice Bass-Robinson the head trainer. They look to have a big chance on Saturday at Durbanville with Master Of Power (pictured). The stable says, “he is in great shape at the moment and although he is drawn wide of his stablemate, we may just fancy him over his companion if forced to pick.”

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