He might not be exactly the greatest jockey in the world though, very possibly, the worst karaoke singer to ever grab hold of a microphone and make whiny helium-type sounds, but the recent fall of jockey Neil “Knackers” Paine aka “Painey”, pictured below, while riding in New Caledonia has hit home- not only because he has been a trusted friend for twenty years.
But listening to him tell me the news from his hospital bed, full of morphine to ease the pain of having two broken hands and a chipped vertebrae, had me thinking, What now?
“Painey” is what racing people refer to as a “battler”- a once-promising apprentice, who has done the hard yards in places like Macau, Mauritius and, of course, Australia, where he has won some and lost some and done the best he could with what he’s been given.
Now, at 50, and a strong family unit around him, but without the financial security that a Group 1 winning jockey has, or conducted smash and grab swoops on tracks of gold in various corners of the world known more for their “equal business opportunities” than winning on horses, “Painey’s” fall made me realise- even more- just what a thankless task a jockey’s life can be.
There are the years of wasting, putting your life on the line every time you get on a horse for a race, the falls, the recoveries, the comebacks, the failures, the misfits, thieves, users and enablers one meets when the going is good- and who are never there if the career hits the skids- plus, of course, the constant whining and slagging off from those talking through their pockets if those fine motor skills might be off on any particular race day.
From the outside looking in and not in the racing business, a number of things don’t make sense.
This includes jockeys almost being taken for granted and barely marketed or promoted when they are (A) part of the main attractions in the sport and (B) Jockey Challenges being the most simple way to attract new race-goers and help them understand- and appreciate- the sport- and edutaining enough to have a bet.
Sadly, the ways of “marketing” these Jockey Challenges, even to the experienced race-goer, borders on vaudeville goofiness and shows an appalling ignorance of both jockey and customer.
Perhaps I’m being a simpleton, but if there’s no one around to ride those beautiful equine animals, where’s the racing?
Could Black Caviar or Silent Witness or Zenyatta, or even Gregers at Caulfield on Saturday with Jye McNeil up, have won for just anyone?
Listening to the post-race raving about Gregers’ win by experienced racing pundits, you would have thought that the potentially talented galloper rode itself to victory.
Same thing after Stephen Baster’s excellent ride the race before to win on Star Rolling, where the same “pundits” applauded the efforts of the second placed horse and its trainer David Hayes.
One has to wonder the relevance of “pundits” along with the other bibs and bobs of bubba hanging on from the old school of racing trying to appear relevant.
Despite the noble efforts of various jockey associations to help and protect their own and fight for their rights like a Beastie Boys anthem, some important pieces are missing in providing riders with clout and that security needed so they don’t get screwed over, and are not left without a leg to stand on.
Often when this happens, a jockey is left to face an uphill task on their own where, if a David versus Goliath battle were to take place, David would be without a slingshot and not a hope in hell of getting a shot between the eyes.
Like antiquated one-sided contracts written up by music companies and their armies of Legal Affairs goon squads that once kept many musicians shackled, official rules have never been on the side of jockeys.
One might even say that these rules are there on purpose, and have never been revisited and re-written as changing them will result in huge internal changes, and mean that all those bully boys on the one side of racing clubs, and the ineffective Yes People on the other side, being challenged- legally- and even taken to court where an entire new can of worms might be opened for public viewing.
Will we ever see the day when a Director of Racing, or even a racing club is sued by a jockey- a jockey with not an agent to get them rides, but backed by professional management looking after their interests with access to an army of heavyweight lawyers like those the creepy OJ Simpson managed to hire, to get him off two murder charges?
Think about it.
Meanwhile, still confusing to someone from the music industry is the rule where jockeys are not allowed to bet on their horses- but their wives, girlfriends, parents, chauffeurs, domestic helpers, apartment caretakers, favourite master sommeliers etc can, and which is so daft, at least to me, it’s Monty Pythonesque.
If any racing club seriously thinks even the most naive punter believes jockeys don’t bet as it’s so illogical why they shouldn’t, they are living in la la land and soaking up the Kool-Aid.
Yes, it’s all to do with ensuring “Integrity in racing”- a term bandied about regularly.
But what a jockey not being allowed to bet has to do with that subject is baffling whereas in the name of complete transparency, one has to wonder who’s watching the integrity of some of those very same racing executives who drag out this old warhorse named Integrity.
Wheeling and dealing is something that goes on in every industry- and every sport.
Just ask Formula 1’s Bernie Ecclestone, and the equally loathesome Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA.
Power rules, power corrupts and power can be used to intimidate the weak who are happy to roll over and take the scraps thrown their way.
One of the key reasons horse racing is failing to attract BIG new players to the sport is because of the perception that almost everything to do with winning and losing has come out of Dodgy City where even the Sheriff works on the wrong side of the ledger.
Dodgy City doesn’t start and end with jockeys.
You know that, we all know that, but the enemy that is the fear within of what is still a relatively small industry means there exists an unwritten code of silence.
Perhaps, just perhaps, horse racing is its own worst enemy in its earnestness to constantly prove that integrity in the sport is alive and well.
It’s like the boy who cried wolf and the saying, Methinks Thou Protesteth Too Much.
Of course, there are a few very good men and women in racing who are in positions of power to ensure that the sport progresses, and its image is not tarnished.
As mentioned many times before, the horse racing industry has a great “mentor” in what not to do wrong by learning from the mistakes of the music industry.
Led by the ignorance and arrogance of people like star-struck private equity blob Guy Hands, below, known for fixing up toilets on the Autobahn, and no knowledge of the music business, they bought themselves into the industry by purchasing music companies- and which they totally fucked up.
What they refused to see was the writing on the wall as the world had entered the digital age and a paradigm shift was already taking place.
With this shift and The Long Tail, the power went to the music fan and created a DIY world for new artists.
No one was beholden to a music company, anymore.
Artists questioned old contracts and left in droves along with the trust and support of music fans whereas Guy Hands was thrown out of EMI Music, the one-time home of the Beatles.
Like that old mantra about not trusting anyone over 30, music fans no longer trust music companies whereas a domino effect has led to not only illegal file sharing, but also the illegal downloads of movies, television series and, basically, anything out there.
What’s here today is a generation- and they are not self-obsessed, self-entitled millennials- that believes everything that’s online is free and who have no time for old fashioned rules.
The only rule is no rules, and they are cynical, they have trust issues, they have no problems confronting authority, and it’s why many one-time popular social media platforms are under siege and confronted with serious questions into ownership of content, fake “views” and “likes”, and trying hard to find ways to soothe the savage beast as there isn’t a hope in hell of popping that genie back into the bottle.
Many in this generation are future horse racing fans as they’re the only new generation out there. Duh.
Looking at it positively, perhaps being one of the industries that was slow to embrace technology and bring entertainment into the sport, can actually help racing clubs.
This is by always looking at where music companies went very wrong- over-spending, bad hires, being prime examples of The Peter Principle, arrogance, ignorance, indecisiveness, and by ignoring the little people- the music fans aka the customers.
It means understanding the mood of today’s consumer, the choices available to them, knowing one’s enemy, and the need to effectively promote and market horse racing’s assets whilst never forgetting the human element.
This is where there is the need for those racing executives who adopt a master-slave attitude to realise it’s time to get off their high horses.
Social media has made this a much smaller world from where one can run, but can never hide. There are no secrets.
As Edward Snowden has shown, it’s all out there and it can bring down entire countries.
Those few good men and women in racing should welcome what is happening in the world as it’s helping to create a new and level playing field for the sport.
It means maintaining the basics of the horse racing, but also having an empty canvas that can be filled in with changes to all those rules and Corporate Speak that are irrelevant in 2014.
It means better, new, more creative content available online by people in sync with right here, right now, 24/7, and not 9 to 5, then and there pencil pushers.
It means having the knowledge to create far greater inter-activity with racing fans and sponsors- and how to present the sport’s star attractions to these people as part of team work and not a corporate after-thought.
It means, like a Boy Scout, to Be Prepared.
New players outside of racing WILL enter the industry with their own teams, plans and independent thinking minus committees and red tape.
It means being open enough to work with them as it will only help bring horse racing to a much wider audience- and in new, exciting ways never previously explored.
And it means ensuring that A Day At The Races can be exciting through the excitement of horses racing with jockeys riding them, and how that time between the races can be as much fun as a Marx Brothers movie and as entertaining as a record by Queen.