Disparaging Headlines Haunt British Racing
Racing, in the last two weeks have seen some pretty disparaging headlines. The usual habit of the racing authorities of ‘keep calm and carry on’ has not served them so well this time. Both owner and major worldwide bloodstock player, Sheikh Mohammed and international recognised trainer in Ireland, Gordon Elliott have both given the media a field day for bad publicity for racing in general. In fact disparaging headlines to haunt British Racing
The more serious of the two, is the alleged revelation that Sheikh Mohammed has kept one of his daughters, Princess Latifa in enforced captivity, thus denying her, her freedom for the last couple of years or so. This revelation, from the BBC does carry credibility in that the BBC obtained video footage of Princess Latifa on film, actually telling the world of her supposed woes. We use the world supposed on purpose as we have to understand that each nation, religion and tribe have their own traditions and rules surrounding their morals. Whether or not we agree with the way some people conduct their lives according to their own beliefs, should not give us western folk the God given right that we are correct and they are not. Each part of the world has grown and evolved both politically and religiously over the centuries in ways which has suited them, including the west. Yes we are shocked by many things which happen in different parts of the world and clearly, some of which fall well short of what we fundamentally believe to be right, decent and moral. Assuming that Princess Latifa was abducted from a boat on its way to India from Dubai in 2018 is correct and she has been held captive since then, whether in a prison or the comfort of a palace, to us westerners, this whole saga is abhorrent. However, there are traditions which are observed in Bedouin countries incorporating most of the Middle East which we find entirely disagreeable, particularly on subjects surrounding the welfare and treatment of women. It is certain that the reverse is true that they too, in the Middle East find the way we live thoroughly decadent and unhealthy.
Unfortunately for the Sheikh, this is not the first time recently that his treatment of the women around him have been questioned. His latest wife, Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and educated in the UK and was brought up with western ideals and traditions, felt the need, apparently to escape Dubai and exile herself to Britain, where she has been ever since, – in hiding from any abduction attempt.
This time, the media circus has necessitated that the authorities, particularly in Britain sit up and take notice, mainly due to the proximity and relationship the Sheikh has with The Queen. Both are avid racing enthusiasts and supporters as owners. They have been known to give each other presents of mares or stallion nominations. Add to this, the amount of employment provided and power Sheikh Mohammed wields in racing, land he owns for studs and training establishments, never mind the millions the Sheikh spends at yearling sales in Britain and around the world. This all makes life difficult and potentially very embarrassing for the UK Racing authorities, and to continue with their usual policy of ‘keep calm and carry on’ may well not work this time.
The CEO of the BHA, the UK racing authority Julia Harrington has had to address the situation and has admitted that the recent revelations regarding Sheikh Mohammed are “a concern”. She has also said the BHA has been obliged to be in contact with the British government about the situation. The British High Court have also been involved in the last year with a case brought by Princess Haya and her treatment by the Sheikh, when the court found that he had intimidated the Princess and also suggested that the Sheikh had indeed imprisoned two of his daughters. They were only able to provide advisory judgments as the Sheikh had not attended the hearing so they only had heard half of the story. Julia Harrington has said that she had explained the BHA responsibilities to the British government as racing’s regulator and also highlighted the significant investment and contribution the Sheikh currently made to the sport of British racing. As regulator of racing, the BHA are responsible to ensuring that race horse owners are of good character and the Sheikh, it could be argued can no longer be considered as such. However, the BHA are remaining very tight lipped about any of their own investigations or conclusions they may have or have not come to. It is our guess that the BHA will do their best to ride out this storm and in the end – do nothing.
The second bad news story for racing is the incredible story and images appearing of the Grand National winning trainer Gordon Elliott of Ireland sitting on a dead horse on the gallops while making a phone call. With the Cheltenham racing festival coming up in ten days time, this too has proved somewhat of an embarrassment for the racing authorities of both the UK and Ireland. The images, which have been circulated on social media sites show the trainer sitting astride a dead horse who has just died of a heart attack while out training, talking onto his phone with a thumbs up sign. Now there could be many explanations, for example, he was giving someone the thumbs up in that he had managed to arrange the horse to be removed, or he could have just been totally insensitive. Whatever the excuse, the fact that he was sitting in such a way on a dead animal has caused outrage. The Irish Racing authority have also investigated the matter and have interviewed the trainer at length. They have taken the view, that Gordon Elliott was callus and insensitive and as a result have brought racing into disrepute. They have banned him from training for one year with six months suspended – in other words a six month ban. Many people think he should have been banned for life. We think that a punishment that severe would be overkill, but clearly Gordon Elliott would do well not to turn up at any racing venue in the UK for some time as he may well find he gets rather more than a six month ban? It comes after several sponsors of the Elliott training yard have pulled their sponsorship with immediate effect.
In conclusion, with the Cheltenham meeting next week and the start of the British flat season soon afterwards, racing could have done without such bad publicity and with no doubt, the BHA are going to have to tread very carefully and start a major damage limitation exercise if they are not to lose all the extra fans they have got due to the corona virus. In racing political terms, it will be an interesting and testing few weeks ahead, particularly in how racing deals with the potential difficulties with Sheikh Mohammed.