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David Ashforth: Press relations can no longer be ignored.

By the time the Ramsdens start training in Britain again, I hope Jack has taken a vow to improve his handling of the press which, from limited personal experience, is sometimes pretty woeful.

Jack is a clever man, sharp, steel-edged, capable of being charming, and someone who likes to keep what he regards as his own affairs private. He doesn't, I think, believe that the press-by which I mean the public-have any right to be told anything. If that is not his position he is certainly capable of giving a good impression that it is. Perhaps Lynda is better.

Maybe France has had a damaging effect. The Ramsdens' Chantilly neighbour, John Hammond, was apparently named as the least press-friendly figure by the French press.

Most trainers, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, recognise the need to promote themselves and acknowledge that being part of the racing industry requires them to play a part in promoting the sport.

To some extent, partly as the result of blanket television coverage, racehorses are public property, and it is no longer acceptable to adopt an `it's none of your business' stance.

The relationship between trainers, jockeys, owners and the media has changed radically over the last 15 years, greatly helped by Channel 4, by competitive rivalry between newspapers, and by the Racing Channel.

A new generation of professionals, people like Mark Johnston and Paul Nicholls, regard media relations as part of a trainer's job, and are skilled at it. For them, the television camera and the journalists' questions are a part of daily life.

Sometimes, trainers and jockeys feel constrained by the knowledge or fear that a particular owner will object to information on his/her horse being broadcast, perhaps before the owner has been informed. It may be betting-sensitive or resale value-sensitive or stud value-sensitive information.

It is not surprising if trainers with large strings, owners with business interests, and jockeys with busy schedules can be difficult to contact and short-winded in reply, but that is not the major determining factor. When it comes to press-friendliness, the greatest distinction is not between large and small, Flat and jumps, but between individuals. By policy or temperament, some trainers, jockeys and owners are more helpful than others.

For example, Godolphin-in the form of Simon Crisford-and Clive Brittain are more naturally comfortable with the press than Aidan O'Brien or Sir Michael Stoute. Mick Fitzgerald is more responsive than Pat Eddery.

And Americans are generally more responsive than the British. One of the joys of going to the Breeders' Cup is the accessibility and quotability of US trainers and jockeys. The fact that everyone is at the track makes a huge difference, and English trainers in Kentucky tend to be more forthcoming than in Newmarket, but there is also a cultural difference.

US trainers and jockeys don't have to be pressed to talk, they talk, and a lot of them talk well; a fact brought home to British racefans whenever a US rider appears in Britain.

The British are getting better, but it will still be a treat to listen to Bob Baffert, D Wayne Lukas, Jerry Bailey and Corey Nakatani holding court at Churchill Downs.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Ashforth, David
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 28, 2000
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