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From Champions to chumps

Horse Racing Ireland and the Turf Club can look on at tomorrow's Champions Day at Ascot and breathe a sigh of relief as they have the opportunity to learn from the British Horse Racing Authority and Racing For Change's errors.

Richard Hughes handing in his licence last night added further seriousness to what is going on with racing across the water.

Jockey Hughes is the first rider to take a stance against the farcical new penalties that have come into effect under the BHA's new whip rules and just before what was due to be the biggest race day in the UK in recent years.

As hard as BHA try with some bizarre suggestions, and some rather good ones that are not appreciated, never have they made such miscalculations as they have over the last fortnight or so.

Both Hughes and Frankie Dettori are two of the game's finest assets and both received prominent slots on Sky Sports News this week, but instead of focusing on the quality of Champions Day tomorrow at Ascot, they were speaking about the new whip rules and the negativity surrounding the sport.

Despite the fact that racing is the second most attended sport in the UK after soccer, publicity on media streams such as Sky Sports News is massive, yet the likes of Frankel and So You Think hardly got a mention.

Last night, Hughes vowed not to return race riding until there is a review of the rules by the BHA and described the penalties as "barbaric". He added that his boss, Richard Hannon, is fully behind his decision.

The timing of the introduction of these new rules has backfired massively as they have totally overshadowed what was due to be a red-letter day for the sport. Henry Cecil's Frankel is unbeaten so far and he is a short-priced favourite to continue to wow the racing public tomorrow afternoon.

Frankel was being billed as one of the big attractions of the day and it was hoped that he would, indeed, catch the attention of those outside racing also.


Yet now the whole fixture is marred by these new rules and the punishments.

Indeed, Hughes spoke about how significant the rules could be for the likes of Frankel tomorrow afternoon.

"I feel sorry for Tom (Queally), who is riding Frankel. He is probably worth £100m and if he abides by the rules and gets beat a shorthead all for the sake of one slap, that horse ain't worth £100m anymore.

"It has serious consequences."

How controversial will it be at Ascot tomorrow, with hopefully such a large audience, if a horse is beaten when it looked like it could have won with another slap of the whip or two?

Also, there is a problem facing Johnny Murtagh, Fran Berry and Kevin Manning, the three Irish-based riders who will be in action in England tomorrow for the first time since the new rules came in. While their colleagues had just under a week to get used to the rules in moderate races on moderate horses, the three Irish jockeys are now thrown straight into the cauldron of top races and expected to be able to ride a tactical race in a top level contest and also keep account of how many times they've hit the horse and where.

A jockey's career can be ruined in a split second by a fall, but at the moment the BHA are doing it themselves with stupid penalties for a rule they've just changed and already needs revisiting.

Hopefully, common sense will prevail and Hughesy will be back in action before too long.


Tony McCoy tweeted last night: "2 much bad publicity for racing. Feel sorry for sheikh fahad qipco and champions day which should be talked about more than other things."

Having undoubtedly welcomed with open arms the support of Fahad and Quipco for the Champions Day project, the BHA will consider themselves very lucky if he maintains his support next year after their terrible timing and handling of this whip rule meant his big dream has been overshadowed.