Credit to Lee Mottershead and Kevin Blake for recent articles on the plight of stable staff in the UK and Ireland. Last week was Stable Staff week, an initiative backed by Racing Welfare, a charity dedicated to raising money to support racing’s workforce, and Betfair, (not a charity) dedicated to raising money for its shareholders.
Google does not reveal who came up with the idea for Stable Staff week, but the originator is entitled to the benefit of my doubt. I dislike seeing year-round issues being ‘highlighted’ by a special day or week. Even if it is meant to raise awareness, too often it becomes an opportunity for conscience-salving that’s restricted on a midnight to midnight basis. “I put a fiver in the tin.” “I retweeted that plea.” “I wrote an article.”
And the whole concept, at industry level, is founded on a disingenuous premise: “Stable staff are the backbone of the industry.” “Our staff are our greatest asset.” “We value the commitment and dedication of our staff.” Er, no you don’t, or they’d be better paid, have more days off and fewer horses to do. What you really value is the capacity for a thoroughbred to enchant the human spirit; to give a boy or girl something to cling to, to dream of, to take meaning from and some hope. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a trade-off, and one that enough lads are still willing to accept. Lads who, I suspect, would rather the industry acknowledged this than dress it up in corporate speak.
But where something extra can be done, perhaps it should be, especially by racecourses. Lee and Kevin mention in their articles how tracks treat staff with regard to recognition of achievements. Some tracks treat stable staff superbly. Most tracks behave shamefully in discriminating between the professionals who work on course.
Lee’s piece, and Kevin’s are the only ones I can find which cover Stable Staff week. Perhaps it got a mention on Channel 4, I don’t know. It’s not a particularly sexy thing to campaign on and sports editors aren’t renowned for dedicating space to such causes. Still, online journalism beats newsprint on space. Column inches are unrestricted so long as you can hold the reader’s attention. But campaigning comes with responsibilities other than writing a column. The racing press, what remains of it, gets better treatment from racecourses than jockeys do, than stable staff do.
The press have a dedicated room which is, at the very least, normally warm and dry. The press badge allows free entry. The track executive provides free food and drink in most cases. The posh word is ‘complimentary’. The compliments are thinly veiled bribes to the people who write about racing, the people with a voice. “Complimentary” swings shut with the hinges of the press room door. With the exception of a handful of tracks, complimentary is not a word you will find in a stable staff canteen or even a jockeys’ changing room.
Again, campaigning comes with responsibilities beyond a dozen paragraphs once a year. Campaigners could perhaps end each racing report every day with something like this: “Free food and drink was available to the press but your correspondent declined both as the racecourse did not make the same offer to stable staff.” I’m sure their colleagues in the press room would show solidarity. Perhaps they could even make it known to the track in advance…you never know from where a conscience might suddenly reveal itself after so many years.