One More Thing...

Mon 9th Jan 2017, 09:09

Pyromaniac heading to the start at Killarney for the race that led to the High Court
©Healy Racing Photos

Brian O'Connor's Weekly Blog
Having finished up last week proclaiming there's nothing more boring than hacks talking hackery the obvious indulgent thing to do this week is talk journalism, or at least the comic-book version that is racing journalism which gets routinely dismissed as a gravy train from which us frauds and fakes trading under the media label loudly slurp while a poor, downtrodden betting public is forced to exist on fresh air and indignation.

'Pa. D' for instance is a regular contributor to this space - thanks for reading - and is far from alone in dismissing us all as gravy merchants with little ambition apart from forming an orderly queue to kneel before the posteriors of the great and the good.

That sadly he - and I'm presuming all that rage is male - might have a point sometimes doesn't mean he isn't guilty of talking up the capabilities of the Fourth Estate in general, especially when it comes to fighting the doping curse, which he rightly points out cuts to the heart of racing's credibility, and indeed the credibility of all sport.

He has regularly berated the media for not rooting out what he believes to be the full story on doping within racing. The manner of doing so presumes a certain omniscience about what's happening day to day on the ground, combined, it seems, with some fanciful idea that we're supposed to be trench-coated 'Columbo's' breaking into offices and rifling through drug cabinets in order to ferret out the truth.

Never mind that such activity can be filed under 'breaking and entering' or that doing that in a racing yard is liable to get you a blast of a shotgun; it is also a hopelessly naive idea about how the media game works. As an overwhelming rule stories happen because someone squawks. That's the boring reality. Without 'Deep Throat' chipping in, Watergate doesn't happen . Someone somewhere has to break cover.

And most of the time that is still a long way from being enough. It is one thing hammering out suspicions from the cover of cosy digital anonymity. Pin an organisation's name to something and the story has to be bulletproof or it's immediately 'Hello Judge' in the High Court. And given this country's libel laws, bulletproof practically means filmed admissions of someone waving a syringe and shouting 'It's A Fair Cop, Guv.'

Anyway the point of this mini media-studies tutorial is that other sports have had lids lifted on cheats by whistleblowers having the courage of their convictions and actually publicly expressing what's going on in relation to doping. That meant crucial first steps in trying to clean up cycling and athletics for instance could occur. Those steps could be encouraged by the media, but ultimately it required someone from within to squawk first.

And no one in racing squawks. Oh, there's any amount of gossip and conspiracy. In an industry where the gravest accusation is to be dismissed as a mug, everyone is clambering over each other to be shrewd, darkly tut-tutting at murky yarns about cheating and ineptitude. But rare is the figure prepared to publicly articulate such concerns and no one it seems is prepared to break cover and deliver first-hand experience or actual evidence of cheating.

It's no coincidence that the steroid controversies were the result of Department of Agriculture officials following up a customs seizure: no one in racing had a clue - officially. It is after all much easier to privately moan rather than actively try to change things. It's no coincidence either that the only thing Turf Club's information line is collecting is dust.

Given how tightly knit the racing and breeding industries are, it's little surprise an omerta culture exists. There are any number of fretful opinions 'privately' expressed, usually in pursuit of any number of sectional interests. But unwillingness to publicly rock the boat and initiate constructive debate as to how the industries can ultimately serve their own best interests by implementing a proper and meaningful anti-doping systems does no one any favours.

Even if it sounds typically craven for a hack to pass the buck and suggest racing has to help itself it still doesn't negate how if racing's great and good aren't exercised enough to care then why should anyone else. There are any number of mundane realities as to why expecting 'Columbo' to ride to the indignant rescue is a cop-out. But there can hardly be a hack alive unwilling to try - given a scent.

So I anticipate a flood of information! And yes, I know I'm dating myself with the Columbo references!

The Pyromaniac story dominated much of the summer when a High Court stay on a 42 day ban imposed on the Tony Martin horse under 'non-trier' rules ultimately allowed the Newtown Anner owned runner to take part in the Galway Hurdle. So nearly six month later news that the case has been resolved to the satisfaction of Pyromaniac's connections may feel a little dated although surely not enough for the Turf Club.

All penalties imposed in the case have been dropped and it is understood the legal tab for both sides will be picked up by the Turf Club. From the regulatory body's point of view it's a sorry conclusion to a tale which highlighted once again the task it faces in trying to exert its authority in a climate where it seems burden-of-proof levels of evidence are required to make anything stick.

Some much trumpeted changes to Rule 212 are expected to be rolled out later this week. They can hardly come too soon. But the real question is will they help alter an integrity climate so desperately in need of overhaul.

And finally, just mentioning Conor McGregor is enough to make many break out in hives. But the promo clip the MMA star has made for the upcoming Pegasus World Cup actually hits the bullseye. Who'd have thought that behind all the posturing McGregor still had a bit of wit.

Of course it helps that Jon Lovitz is there too - "Whaaaaat?" But McGregor sends himself up well - "OK, now I'll take questions - until I get bored!" Been there, pal, been there.

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