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The Pat Smullen Column: Unsocial Media


Pat Smullen | Healy Racing Photography

By Pat Smullen

I’ve been really perturbed this week by the some of the abuse that has been aimed at young jockeys on social media.

On occasion, things can go horribly wrong in races and jockeys can make mistakes, but it’s hardly ever intentional. Jockeys want to be riding winners and earning their living but it’s a fact of life that sometimes things just go wrong.

The people writing such things don’t understand what jockeys have to do to get to the point where they are riding a horse that has a chance of winning, and that may be after riding out three or four lots that morning, mostly on an empty stomach, and then travelling two or three hours maybe to ride in only one race on that day. Then through circumstances or human error, sometimes things go wrong. Believe me, no-one is more disappointed than the jockey. Riders are traveling around the country to try to make ends meet and they want to win more than the punter who has backed the horse.

I think it’s important to point out that some riders are lucky to be riding regularly at the highest level, but the same decisions have to be made in a claimer and that race is as important to the people involved as the Derby is to others. I always approached every race wanting to win, and I think it’s the same for most riders. You apply the same skills whether it’s a £3,000 race or a Group 1, and those skills quite often include having to make split-second decisions. When it comes down to it, you might be lucky enough to make the right decision, but on occasions you make the wrong decision and that is just a fact of life.

Whether you are a young claiming rider just getting started or a top jockey it does happen on occasion and the only thing you can do is come back in, put your hands up and say you got it wrong. The owners and trainers may be frustrated but nine times out of 10 they understand, and no one will be more frustrated than the rider. That’s the mentality of jockeys: you want to win every race for yourself and for your owners and trainers.

Take this year’s Kentucky Derby as an example. What happened with Maximum Security was very unfortunate for Luis Saez. He’s probably 52 or 53 kilos and if a 500-kilo horse decides he wants to head off to the right, sometimes you just physically can’t stop them, and people perhaps don’t realise that. No jockey is going to be able to out-muscle a 500-kilo horse if they decide they want to shift ground.

I’m a fan of social media and I think it’s a great way to be able to promote yourself and keep up with the news. There’s no question that when used properly it’s a very good and necessary tool for businesses, but the downside to it is that it allows people to vent their anger and be abusive towards individuals anonymously and that’s a really cowardly way to behave.

Thankfully, it is only a small minority of people but the abuse that jockeys, and some trainers, receive is totally uncalled for. Whether it’s trainers that have young apprentices in their yards, or jockey coaches, or the regulatory bodies, I hope that they will educate the young riders and advise them not to pay any heed to what is a small minority of people with a vicious approach who vent their frustrations through social media.

It’s vitally important for the industry to use social media and to embrace it but I’d like to see rules brought in whereby people can’t be on such a platform unless they properly identify themselves. It’s too easy to be nameless and faceless and say whatever you feel like saying, using vile language, and that’s not good for society.

From my experience of abuse on Twitter, it never bothered me, but I do have children who read it and a wife who reads it, and it’s not very nice for anyone. People don’t take that side of it into account.

It’s easier said than done, but my advice to the younger jockeys is please don’t pay any heed to it. The pressures of being a jockey are high enough, both mentally and physically, without reading that sort of stuff.

Nothing Covert About This Love
We had a brief trip to Newmarket at the weekend for a very special occasion to celebrate the wedding of Mark McStay and Eva O’Donoghue.  Not only was it a happy day but it was a lovely opportunity to be reunited with the team behind the Irish Oaks and Prix de l’Opera winner Covert Love (Ire).

Mark bred the filly with Hugo Merry and they raced her together with a partnership, and I was delighted to be asked to ride her. Mark has been a big supporter of mine for many years. We’ve been friends for a long time and he was instrumental in me getting the ride on Benbaun (Ire), another big winner on Arc day all those years ago with Mark Wallace. That was a great association and then I won the Ayr Gold Cup on Captain Ramius (Ire) for Mark’s parents, John and Clodagh, and that led to me riding a lot of horses for Kevin Ryan. Then of course our most recent association was with Covert Love. What she went on to achieve was really special and in turn led to me having a lot of rides for Hugo Palmer.

Mark has worked very hard setting up Avenue Bloodstock with John Ferguson and Amy Lanigan, and there’s no doubt he has a huge knowledge of the game and of pedigrees. He has been very successful over the years and I’m sure that will continue in his new venture.  We were very lucky to attend the wedding and to have a great night with lots of racing people, and I’d like to wish Mark and Eva a long and happy marriage.

So Sorry For The Lavery Team
I was devastated to hear the news from Sheila Lavery about Lady Kaya yesterday afternoon. Neither the filly nor her owners deserved that. They rightly had huge expectations of what Lady Kaya could achieve in the future, but it’s a measure of the people that they are that they will carry on and accept what has happened. Like so many other people, I am just so very sad for them all.

I know first-hand that Sheila treats her horses almost like children and it’s going to hit her very hard. The same goes for her brother John and her niece Joanne, who bought Lady Kaya as a foal. They have all done such a terrific job with her, and I know that they will continue to do the same for every horse that comes into their stable.


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