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Peter Thomas on Monday: Frankie will be missed, but if rules are changed it must be same for all.

Byline: Peter Thomas

IT WON'T be the same without Dettori, will it? That beaming smile, the flying dismount, those well-thought-out bellows of ``Go on Frankie!'' as he walks one round the parade ring. We'll miss them all.

It's times like these that raise that hoary old chestnut once again: the issue of whether or not the R ules of Racing should deprive us of a popular public figure like the Italian Rapscallion during one of the sport's most public weeks.

Will Il Slicko's absence from the York stage be a shot in the arm for the notions of fair play and justice, or a shot in the foot for the Turf?

On the one hand, you've got the argument that the Royal meeting needs Dettori and that everything possible should be done to ensure he's there to jolly along the proceedings.

On the other, many would insist there's no point having rules if you're going to break them every time one of the rich guys with an engaging personality (narrows it down a bit, doesn't it?) looks like missing a big meeting.

The one thing you can't do, as far as I'm concerned, is start making exceptions in response to jockeys' financial arrangements or racing's public relations requirements. If you're going to let Frankie off lightly for bringing down a rival in a roughhouse of a race at Windsor, simply because it'll cost him a potentially lucrative week in the spotlight and deprive the TV people of their knight in bright blue armour, then how are you going to say, without blushing, that poor old Johnny Nomark, who committed the same offence, can't receive the same lenient treatment because he's due to ride one that's fully expected in a handicap at Carlisle on St James's P alace day?

The rules are there to protect jockeys, as much as anything, and if you want protecting from barmy behaviour, you've got to expect to be punished for behaving barmily.

Otherwise, we might as well put the rule book on top of a big pile of body protectors, crash helmets, Jockey Club medical advisers and stipendiary stewards and burn the bloody lot.

If you don't want to look hypocritical or weak in your implementation of the rules, the only sane alternative is to rip up the relevant page of the regulations and start again, in an attempt to come up with an alternative that keeps our big names in the saddle for the big meetings, still provides the lesser lights with a level playing field, makes the severity of the punishment fit the gravity of the crime and, crucially, offers enough of a deterrent to stop anarchy from setting in on the racecourse.

Much as it might be entertaining in the short term to see sprint handicaps conducted in the same spirit as the Destruction Derby at a stock-car meeting, with devil-may-care violence ruling the roost and every simmering personal feud being transported from the weighing room to the public arena, we'd soon run out of small people and we'd end up having to race shire horses and hike up the minimum weight to 13st.

Ace trainer Richard Fahey threw his hat in to the ring in the Post last week and resurrected a partially sensible solution to the problem: instead of banning the miscreants, thereby punishing owners and trainers, too, for an offence that might well have been committed on behalf of another set of connections, why not fine them a percentage of their earnings.

It makes some sense.

Removing hard cash from somebody's pocket is a good way of focusing their attention; the level of the fine could be sensitive to the nature of the offence, rather than demanding hanging, drawing and quartering for careless riding; there would no longer be the need for hurried and unseemly appeals from riders due to partner Derby favourites the following weekend; and innocent bystanders wouldn't be hung out to dry with the guilty.

It's not flawless. Financialpenalties would still hit the little man harder than the big man. Wouldn't you agree that it's more of a deterrent to take away somebody's mortgage money than it is to deny him another pair of designer cufflinks for his silk shirt?

But then none of the proffered solutions is without its faults, although some are better than what we've got at the moment.

I'm prepared to endure an Ascot without Frankie if it's the fairest way of going about things. But perhaps it's not. It would be interesting to know how the jockeys feel about it - all of them.


Hands up if you think riding suspensions should be replaced by fines based on percentage of earnings
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 13, 2005
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