August 14, 2022

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The question surely slicing through racing today is just how such a vast and disconnected...

The question surely slicing through racing today is just how such a vast and disconnected space could exist between the two sides of one intimate community.
ryony Frost should feel utterly vindicated by a damning disciplinary panel verdict on Robbie Dunne’s behaviour towards her, specifically a declaration of guilt on all four bullying charges.

But the clarity implicit in the language of this finding doesn’t exactly echo now across the landscape of her workplace.
If anything, Frost has been left in little doubt that her decision to make a formal complaint about Dunne has been interpreted as the betrayal of some unspoken, weighing-room code.
Of all the energies convulsing her industry as this six-day hearing ran its course in London, overwhelming among them was the sense of a place determined only to turn the volume down on this story.
If not quite a denial mechanism, the chorus of those inclined to depict Frost as the problem bore a faintly demoralising tone, a kind of muffled declaration that the idea of mutual courtesy and respect in the room was somehow idealised, innocent even.
The defence argument held, essentially, that Dunne should be judged only through the prism of the existing weighing-room culture, not some aspirational manual.
In other words, if a certain vulgarity was the norm, he could scarcely be condemned for proving himself faithful to it.
There is a certain logic to this, undeniably. Harsh words are exchanged routinely in the white heat of serious competition, so to place such words under forensic examination can seem simplistic and unfair.
Nobody imagines these environments as places blithe with birdsong, so why pretend?
But racing was in serious trouble if it did not recognise just how grim the BHA report read, specifically its fundamental message to female jockeys. A message all but pulled from the Middle Ages or, as Louis Weston – in his closing submission on behalf of the Authority – put it, “re-enacting social attitudes of the 1950s”.
If it has been racing’s glory that female jockeys are now such an integral part of the sport – specifically in a year Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to win the Aintree Grand National and finished leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival with six winners – the sense of backs being turned and weighing-room ranks closing to Frost spoke of a profoundly defensive, inelegant place.
Even some who had no need to align themselves with either side became entangled, not least AP McCoy’s less-than-subtle tweet in support of valets as three members of that trade, who’d given evidence at the hearing, allegedly refused to work for Frost at Fontwell on Tuesday.
Captioning a weighing-room photograph in the company of four valets, McCoy tweeted: “My last day riding at Cheltenham my valets/friends looked after me for over 20 years miss hanging out with them.”
If the former champion jockey wanted to express support for the valets in question, why not a simple phone call?
Given the investigation had yet to reach its conclusion, his tweet was needlessly provocative, a fact not lost on the majority of those replying, some of whom were subsequently blocked by McCoy in response to negative comments and others thanked for being supportive.
It became abundantly clear throughout this case that Dunne had the support of many weighing-room colleagues, not least Richard Johnson, Tom Scudamore and Gavin Sheehan, the latter two choosing to question the standard of Frost’s race-riding while Johnson suggested, perhaps not unreasonably, that “every jockey uses words that we would not think are acceptable in the cold light of day.”
But in Dunne’s case, those words were deemed both threatening and misogynistic by the panel “whatever the frustrations about her style and whatever the habits of the weighing-room.”
Most strikingly, the judgment spoke of a “deep-rooted and coercive” culture within the room, one that meant “jockeys of repute” and valets “probably find themselves in a difficult position.”
By any interpretation, this reeks of a community hostile to any intimation of behavioural problems within, and disdainful of what it considers outside interference.
The view of BHA investigators was of less than enthusiastic engagement with their enquiries and a broad, deeply embedded defensiveness within the workplace.
It needs to be noted that Frost has proven herself a deeply accomplished horsewoman whose Ryanair Chase win on Frodon at Cheltenham in 2019 represented the first Grade One victory over obstacles by a female jockey at the Festival.
In December 2020, on the same horse, she became the first woman to ride a King George winner.
Her father, Jimmy, rode the winner of the 1989 Aintree Grand National, Little Polveir. Racing has, palpably, been the heartbeat of her and her family’s lives.
Yet, the perverse context of this finding is that Frost has, essentially, found herself cold-shoulderedby many in her industry for reporting aggressive and threatening behaviour.
While the verdict is that she was, indeed, bullied by Dunne, the prevailing attitude of many is that the finding represents an aberration of sorts.
An over-wrought condemnation of nothing more serious than rough, laddish behaviour that, perhaps, got slightly out of hand.
And that surely endures as racing’s deepest problem now.
A convulsive finding that exposes behaviour so profoundly out of step with the 21st century, yet so many within the sport still inclined to simply cup their ears.

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