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Horse Racing: Silence reigns over Blake's swift exit as jockeys' chief.

Byline: By Graham Green

THE mystery surrounding John Blake's sudden departure as chief executive of the Jockeys' Association deepened yesterday, with those in the know refusing to provide any explanation.

The JAGB yesterday issued a statement that, while insisting it was "business as usual", failed to throw any light on why Blake, 40, had left his post of almost four years without any warning.

Tuesday evening's announcement was a shock not only for the majority of riders, but also the Horseracing Regulatory Authority, with whom Blake dealt on an almost daily basis.

There was no clue of the impending bombshell on Monday when Blake sent Jamie Spencer a good luck message ahead of his appeal in France, and texted his new mobile number to jockeys and HRA officials.

There has been speculation that Blake left amid mounting criticism he was not providing sufficiently strong leadership over issues causing unrest among Flat jockeys. Among the matters with which he had to deal were working restrictions on riders and the spate of suspensions following the introduction of new rules, in particular with regard to whip offences.

JAGB company secretary Ann Saunders, in her statement, said: "We would like to make it absolutely clear that the office of the Jockeys' Association remains fully operational.

"Until John's successor is appointed, we will continue to deal with any issues that arise and ensure that the jockeys receive effective representation. It is very much business as usual.

"Our members and all industry personnel should continue to contact the association's office as normal."

Despite a day rife with rumours, JAGB vice-president Dale Gibson refused to discuss the reason behind Blake's swift exit.

Gibson said: "We have got no more to say right now. It's going to take a little time to sort out, so I think you are going to have to wait for the story to come to you. I can't be too open on this one, I'm afraid."

Pressed whether Blake was fired or left by mutual consent, he replied: "Again, I can't comment."

The background to the split was also off limits with JAGB joint-president Kevin Darley, who said: "I don't think that should be common knowledge at the moment.

There has been a separation, obviously amicable, and we just want to move on but get somebody else in so we can get business flowing as normal as possible."

JAGB council member Carl Llewellyn said: "I knew what was going on, but it's a tricky one so I would rather say nothing."

Blake's predecessor, Michael Caulfield, who held the position for 15 years, claimed the role was still an attractive one.

"I would still suggest it is a brilliant job," he said, "very tough, but a really fascinating role because you get, dare I say it, the best seat in the house."

On the type of person the JAGB should be seeking for the job, Caulfield said: "You have to give it everything, you are constantly on call, but that is professional sport.

I think you just have to try to develop an enormous empathy with the jockeys, and you have to be accepted as well."

Blake's departure drew a statement from Nic Coward, chief executive for the HRA and BHB.

He said: "John Blake's departure is clearly a matter between the JAGB and John, but he certainly represented jockeys' views in a very tenacious and effective manner on the full range of regulatory and governance issues, from inside information to sponsorship arrangements, in addition to extensive committee work.

"We have spoken to the JAGB, who have assured us it is business as usual, and they are in the process of formalising interim arrangements. It is imperative that they find a permanent replacement for John as quickly as possible."

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John Blake: left without warning
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 24, 2007
Words:632
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