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Nathan Hobson was sanctioned for comments he made about the Swan Hill track

The Swan Hill Jockey Club has been lambasted on social media after their decision to charge, find guilty and sanction trainer Nathan Hobson for comments he made about the Swan Hill track in the media. Hobson had been referring to the firmness of the track at the meeting on February 17, the day two horses died.

The Swan Hill Jockey Club’s action was very surprising in that it is the ruling body in each state, the accepted authority in terms of policing and acting on any behaviour or commentary which might be deemed prejudicial to the interests of racing, who normally deal with such matters … but the Swan Hill Jockey Club committee clearly felt aggrieved enough to take unilateral action.

Significantly, when Racing Victoria was asked about what transpired between the Swan Hill Jockey Club and Hobson … after the fact … they would say no more than that it was a matter between the club and the trainer, thus in no way did they clarify whether they thought Hobson’s comments were actionable from their point of view, or not.

To date there is no indication that Racing Victoria will be taking any action against Hobson.

The Swan Hill Jockey Club believed that the track on the day in question was prepared to Racing Victoria’s standards and that Hobson’s comments could have equated to an action that was ‘unduly prejudicial to or subversive of the purposes or authority of the club’’ as well as behaviour that was “guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the club’ … and the Swan Hill based trainer was summons to front a hearing into the matter.

Hobson was ultimately found guilty, basically of being in breach of club training rules and regulations and handed a suspended fine of $2000. He was also directed to apologise, in writing, to the club and track manager.

The banter from there on has been large and loud.

The integrity of racing, to be sure, has to be paramount, but it would be also be good to know that the people who arguably know best about what happens out on the track, the trainers and the jockeys, are able to comment on situations in an honest fashion, without fear of unhappy consequences.

In fact, there would be an integrity issue in itself if they were not honest in the public assessments.

Part of the trainers and jockeys promotional duties these day is to talk to the television media before and after races. A common question from an interviewer is, “And what do you think of the track?’

How would you like them to answer … if not honestly?

Bear in mind, what one licensee says on camera, often is what is being said by other licensees around the track … which is believed to be the case with the Hobson issue. He was the apparently the only one brought to order because he actually trains at Swan Hill and therefore fell under the Swan Hill Jockey Club authority.

The bottom line is that the Swan Hill Jockey Club is within its rights to take any action they feel is appropriate at any time against Swan Hill based trainers courtesy of its overseeing authority under the rules of the training agreement between the Swan Hill Jockey Club and the trainers that use the track for their training purposes … but, whatever the rights and wrongs of this matter, to say that their action and decision in this case has not been well received is an understatement.

Apart from a wave of public support, the Australian Trainer’s Association (ATA) has stood by Hobson.

The ATA, through their CEO Andrew Nicholl, stated they were concerned about the ‘worrying precedence’ that might be set by the Swan Hill turn of events.

“In general terms, it is well understood there are boundaries around what can be publicly stated,” said Nicholl. “There are rules that govern same – racing and club based – and for good reason, to protect the industry’s reputation, and ensure everyone acts within the law. They also promote an environment where participants must act with respect towards each another.

“In Nathan’s case, it was his and our view that he did not breach any rule. Simply, he expressed an opinion on the subject of the race day track condition, made in direct response to questions asked by the interviewer. No direct reference or disparaging comment was ever made towards the club, nor any individual at the club. Sadly, the Club did not agree with our assessment.’’

At the end of the day, it all is arguably about the right of any individual to, within reason, express an opinion and you would think it is difficult to oppose that right if the opinion is delivered in a responsible manner and not a radical one.

What we really don’t want is for things to get to a stage where you can either have an opinion or be a licensee, but you can’t have both.

Are we closer to that position after the Swan Hill issue?

It would be a very sad day if that ever became a general rule of racing!

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