Racing, for the most part, is naturally a game of opinions. Though winners are set in stone, i.e., first past the post wins, how and why horses didn’t win is always open for debate.
Some cite bad rides from jockeys or poor placement from trainers. One thing that really irks people is what is known as “schooling in public”, which is when people believe that a horse has not been sent into a race to try its best.
To attempt to combat such chicanery, the BHA introduced an official ‘non-triers’ rule which we aim to explain.
The Rules of Racing are exhausting to read.
Sometimes, they aren’t even simple to look up.
They are crucial though, as even though the basics surround horses going from point A to point B, this can be a very complex sport.
These are the highlights of the rules which surround horses being run on their full merits, for the integrity of the sport and for the good of the betting and watching public.
The basic rule suggests ‘every horse which runs in a race shall be run on its merits’. Essentially, they should only race if they are ready to, any ‘training’ as such should be done at the training yard.
- It’s the duty of the trainer to ensure that proper instructions are given to the rider in order for the horse to achieve the objective, i.e., its best possible placing.
- No owner, trainer or other connected person should instruct a rider to ride the horse in such a way that the horse cannot obtain the best possible placing.
- If a horse is not ridden to obtain the best placing, the trainer is in breach. The trainer may not be in breach of the rules if they can explain to the stewards that the rider has failed to comply with the riding instructions given.
Correctly or incorrectly, that last point has been used by trainers before, i.e., they claim to have told the rider one thing and they have chosen to do another which has cost the horse the best placing.
Continuing on the theme, rule 156 highlights the following:
- Jockeys are in breach of the rules if, in the opinion of the stewards, a horse has not achieved its best possible placing because of the rider’s actions.
- Guilty actions of the rider include failing to ride out approaching the finish by dropping their hands, mistaking the race distance by riding a finish too early or failing to ride one, or taking the wrong course.
Stopping at the half-furlong pole, the wrong winning line or even a full circuit too early is something we’d sadly seen really quite often in British and Irish horse racing.
The opinion of the stewards still counts for everything when it comes to immediately deciding whether a breach has occurred. This alone bothers many racing stakeholders.
The stewards can decide that a rider has failed to take all permissible and reasonable measures to ensure the horse has been given the best opportunity to win, or obtain the best placing.
Examples of Alleged Non-Triers
There have been many accusations made about non-triers, aimed primarily at jockeys down the years.
Most of these are nonsense, with the accusers usually being those who don’t fully understand the intricacies of horse racing and who often feel emotional in the moments after a losing bet.
For instance, when betting in a novice or maiden race punters must keep in mind that the horses are very immature. They are also in the race to learn, so while a jockey won’t deliberately keep a horse back, they will not knock them about unnecessarily so early in their careers.
Some incidents have rightly infuriated punters and other racing fans, including these examples:
The Banning of Danny Brock
Danny Brock was a Flat jockey in Britain, riding professionally for around 12 years. He was disqualified for 15 years for deliberately stopping his horse in three races ranging from December 2019 to March 2019.
As well as Brock, trainer Philip McBride’s assistant Sean McBride was disqualified for seven years along with three individuals who did not work at the stable. The three were banned for 15 years.
During two races highlighted by the case, it was alleged that Brock made sure Mochalov, trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam, didn’t win after major ‘lay’ bets were placed on the horse on the betting exchanges.
In another highlighted race, the most famous in this case, Brock rode Scott Dixon’s Samovar in a two-runner race. The conspirators in the case won approximately £100,000 by backing his rival, Tricky Dicky, heavily with the bookmakers.
It was found that Samovar lost around twelve lengths at the beginning of the race with Brock making no effort to catch up, later offering a slight push around a furlong from home when coming in behind Tricky Dicky.
Dylan Kitts and Hillsin
There was social media uproar in the summer of 2023 when many watchers noticed a ride of Dylan Kitts’ at Worcester.
Hillsin, the horse at the centre of this controversy, finished third in a conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle on his first start for new trainer Chris Honour.
He had drifted markedly in the betting beforehand, but appeared to be well in contention to win after the penultimate hurdle. Despite this, his rider Dylan Kitts sat motionless in the saddle. That’s fine when the horse then goes on to win, but Kitts continued to offer no effort with the horse galloping over the line in third.
In this case, Kitts maintained in his explanations that he was asked to drop the horse out early before taking his time and then mounting a late challenge. He also offered up the fact that Hillsin made a respiratory noise and then hung badly.
Something not mentioned officially but that should be noted, is that if Hillsin did indeed make a respiratory noise before hanging, that would suggest something was wrong and therefore perhaps should have been pulled up by Kitts for the horse’s welfare.
Many aimed their ire at the trainer. Owing to the betting drift, the accusations via social media were that the jockey was told not to win the race.
For his part, Chris Honour expressed his concern over the way in which Hillsin was ridden, asking for the horse and one other owned by Alan Clegg to be removed from his yard. That might suggest that there was a conspiracy between the owner and the jockey, leaving out the trainer, though the owner denies this.
Dylan Kitts had his licence suspended with immediate effect after the BHA began an investigation, also being banned from all British racecourses after a disciplinary hearing.
Iqbal Khan at Killarney
Hot on the heels of the Dylan Kitts controversy, social media was alive again as eagle-eyed racing fans spotted the ride of claiming jockey Iqbal Khan at Killarney.
It was noticed that Khan did precious little at all on Lucky Queen, not asking for any effort as the race got going in earnest. Suddenly however with two furlongs to go, he then struck the horse with excessive frequency, around 13 times in fact, without ever giving the horse a chance to respond. It was his first ride in Ireland.
The horse went on to finish second and is owned by someone who is understood to be friends with the rider in question.
Khan had riding experience in Pakistan, though was claiming 7lbs in Ireland. The stewards also noticed the ride at Killarney and suspended the jockey for ten days, a seemingly light punishment many were not happy with.
This ride brings two controversies in one. Is this a non-trier given that the rider offered no effort when his horse clearly had a big chance of winning? Or, is it a welfare issue given the excessive force used?
Why Do Some People in Racing Not Try?
When there is prize money on offer and repercussions for being less than honest, you’d be forgiven for asking why on earth an owner, trainer or jockey would attempt to run a horse and then not try to win.
There are answers to that question.
Due to the handicap systems in Britain and Ireland, the main reason people attempt to not win is to gain a better official mark. The lower the rating, the less weight they carry. This allows them a better chance in future handicaps.
In what is known as “schooling in public”, trainers have had accusations levelled against them that they want their horse to go under the radar by offering up a sub-par performance, only to go and win in the future.
The horse’s handicap mark, or of course its odds, could be a factor.
What Are the Punishments?
Punishments for non-triers can vary greatly, depending on the perceived severity of the offence.
Those involved can be banned, sometimes only for a number of days. Even the horse in question can be disqualified from racing in order to protect the integrity of the sport.
Fines can also be imposed on trainers and jockeys. Longer bans, even being “warned off”, have been known including with the aforementioned Danny Brock situation.
The sport may react slowly sometimes, but in the most extreme cases it pretty much makes it clear that those caught not trying for financial gain at the expense of the racing and betting public will be punished harshly.