Despite strong criticism of the National Horseracing Authority (NHA) from trainer Mike de Kock as the result of a decision handed down by the High Court last week, he and NHA Managing Director Lyndon Barends are very much on the same wavelength.
The review was lodged by trainer James Goodman against the finding and penalty of an inquiry finalised in Durban on 13 November 2015. Goodman was found guilty of a contravention of Rule 73.2.4 in that he was the trainer of Aldric from which a urine specimen was taken after it had run in Race 2 at Greyville on 10 October 2014 was found to contain caffeine, a prohibited substance in terms of the rules of the NHA.
Goodman had requested one of the members of the inquiry board, Jonathan Witts-Hewinson, recuse himself as he had been a previous chairman of the NHA and as such, was not construed as capable of being objective by Goodman.
On review the judge commented: “In my view the argument that the second respondent (Jonathan Witts-Hewinson) occupied positions that were potentially conflicting is unassailable. He ought to have recused himself. However, in addition, the perception of bias held by the applicant was perfectly reasonable on any analysis. On this ground alone the case falls to be decided for the applicant.”
The NHA responded that it “respects and has accepted the judgment of the court and is currently reviewing its position and the effect of the judgment on the exist- ing disciplinary structures”.
De Kock has been at logger- heads with the NHA, previously the Jockey Club of SA, ever since he started training over the “the arrogant manner in which they try to control racing”.
“This ruling is a sad indictment of the NHA and it sums up the way the Jockey Club was run for the last 40 years,” said De Kock.
“They don’t seem to understand how a sample can get contaminated. Don’t accuse somebody of being a cheat unless you are sure. Horseracing is the most policed sport on the planet, it’s a zero tolerance sport.
“In my view, 99% of trainers are honest horsemen with no drug agendas. But to err is human. We, they, all make mistakes. I presently have 170 horses in my own yard, among them are sick horses and sore horses who need treatment and medication. There is always a chance of slipping, and invariably charges result from veterinary errors.
“However, by NHA rules, which the majority of trainers don’t agree, all the NHA has to do is to prove the accused is the trainer of the horse in which a positive sample was found. By virtue of the fact that he is a licensed trainer, such a trainer is guilty. Period.
“Until now, we have been unable to do anything about it. We’ve signed under duress to accept archaic, draconian rules. We’ve had no choice but to give Witts-Hewinson and company the right to treat us in an arbitrary manner!
“They also cannot wait to send out a press release about a positive test, at times even before the trainer has been informed. It is more important for the trainer to know how the horse came up positive as it is an indictment of how he runs his business.
“We don’t do these things on purpose, in general it is just an oversight of management.
“It’s hard to do everything ourselves so we delegate jobs to others and yes, mistakes happen. We need to know how it happened to make sure it does not happen again.
“No one I know wants to cheat deliberately. After all, we are trying to restore, not improve performances.”
However, De Kock did see one light at the end of the tunnel and that is Barends. “I hope Lyndon can run with this and improve things. These things happened before his time and he cannot be blamed for them. He is certainly saying all the right things and I find his leadership refreshing.
“But he will need time. He has 50 years of disasters to clean up. He must be given a chance,” said De Kock, “because the way the previous lot portrayed racing was for Dick Francis books only.”
Barends responded: “I fully agree with Mike de Kock that fairness should be the order of the day. I’ve endeavoured and will continue to make this a hallmark of my tenure.
“While I will not at this moment deal with the specific issues raised in the judgment or in Mike de Kock’s blog, the important issue will be for the NHA to give serious attention to the contents and implications of the judgment and ensure that we tighten and/ or amend our procedures where necessary. Any perceived conflict of interest or real indicator of possible bias will be dealt with.
“Strong and fair regulation of the industry must not be underestimated in its role to make the sport sustainable. The entire NHA is focused to ensure that we uphold these and other important values in our daily execution of the tasks at hand.
“At no stage must anyone think that we will willing to instil a bias in our system that is skewed against anyone of our stakeholders. It’s important that trainers, our staff and other stakeholders hold the view that we are all one big passionate and dedicated racing family and not enemies.”