In late November last year former National Hunt jockey Richard Linley visited The National Heritage Centre.
Now employed as the British Horseracing Authority's Senior Inspector of Courses working with a team of three other Inspectors we asked him about the complexities of this crucial role.
How did you get the job and how long have you been in the role?
Having ridden for four years as an amateur and twelve as a professional jockey the opportunity arose as The Jockey Club who at the time  were racings’ regulators and having had an enforced layoff of fourteen months I thought it an opportunity not to be missed as most of administration jobs at the time were possibly “dead men’s shoes”. However, it has worked out well for me, I love what I do and have enjoyed my work.
Does the role cover flat and national hunt racing?
The role and that of the team covers 61 Flat and National Hunt racecourses plus 106 Point to Point courses around the country.
How much of your role is office based /visiting racecourses?
My fellow Inspectors and I write a report on every visit we conduct whether it be a pre-season inspection or one that is carried out during the racing season flat, jump or point to point course. An Inspector would normally visit a flat racecourse at least three and a jump course at least four times a season although the high profile fixtures there will be more frequent visits. We try to have an office day during the week, but at really busy times of the year it proves quite difficult but we get the paperwork done as it is imperative we record our visits and what if anything has been agreed with the Clerk of the Course that requires attention to ensure compliance with the General Instructions.
Would you take us through a typical day at the races for you?
Having carried out our preliminary inspection pre-season approximately 7 -14 days before the first meeting of the season and any deficiencies that were identified and which are to be rectified before the first meeting recorded. During a race day we would see that those deficiencies had been addressed and visit all the areas used by the Officials, i.e., Stewards facilities, weighing room, Judges facilities sampling unit, Equine Welfare Integrity Officers Office area in the stables etc., and the areas used by the participants, i.e., Jockeys changing rooms, saddling boxes, stables and of course we would pay particular attention to the racing surface itself and the way it has been set up and prepared for that particular fixture.
Do you visit every racecourse in England, Scotland and Wales each year?
It would be and is a physical impossibility with my current responsibilities – 61 racecourses about 1500 fixtures per annum which really governs what the Inspectorate do on a day to day basis. If I am going to a racecourse it is probable that I might call in at one on the way or one on the return journey. Most recently I was going to Wetherby but called in with Nick Carlisle to discuss winter remedial work at Pontefract. The reality is that we achieve more on a non-race day with the Clerk of the Course, on a race day he is very busy ensuring that the day runs smoothly although we do pick up snippets of information from the Officials or participant groups during a race day. However, I am responsible for eight racecourses with Cheltenham taking somewhere between twenty and thirty days of my time and I try to support the team whether it be a rebuild or refurbishment such as that which has occurred at Newcastle and Hereford and in recent years. In the last thirty years there has been an increase of over 80% in flat racing – I would hasten to add not all allweather racing, just over a 20% increase in turf flat racing and about a 12% increase in jump racing. As Senior of the team I also get involved in Apprentice, Conditional, Category B Amateur. Trainer and Ground Staff courses during the year.
If so, is each course graded/marked as to safety?
No in a word. Racecourses have to comply with the minimum standards as laid down in the British Horseracing Authority General Instructions, fair to say that those racecourses holding high profile and major fixtures prepare and produce their venues with everything over and above the minimum standards as they should. Safety and integrity are of paramount importance and if either were to be compromised because of a non-compliance with the Instructions then in all probability there would be no racing at that venue until such time the deficiencies had been rectified.
How has your job changed over the time of your appointment?
Massively. As I mentioned the fixture list governs what we do on a day to day basis, but as with any sports turf venue, expectations of the customers occasionally exceeds what is possible for racecourses to produce as a racing surface. What everyone tends to forget is that racecourses are racecourses because they are predominately poor land or flood plains, if the land was any good it would have been under the plough centuries ago – silk purse out of a sow’s ear scenario can prove challenging. During the early time of my appointment and a Clerk of the Courses job was available, the mantra was “we need somebody who knows how to farm”. Wrong! We are talking sports turf, you are not trying to grow a crop of hay or grow grain, you are doing your best to produce a racing surface in the best possible condition you can for all the programmed fixtures. My predecessor, Neil Wyatt, instigated the racecourse Ground Staff courses back in 1996, those courses designed specifically for racecourses needs and I believe that as a result with the Racecourse Executive support there is no doubt that the management of the racing surface has improved significantly. If somebody said to me when I started my job as an Inspector in 1987 that by 2013 that a couple of individual racecourses would spend in excess of 2.5 million on their racing surface, or cover the whole racecourse to protect it from frost as Cheltenham did that same year, I would have suggested as politely as I could that they were absolutely stark raving bonkers.
What are the biggest challenges in the role?
For me I like to know that all the participants have gone home in one piece, whether it be horse or jockey, or any of the horse attendants, it is satisfying when that happens, it doesn’t matter whether it is flat or jump racing, they are very demanding disciplines on both the equine and human participants alike. To continue to encourage improvements at all the venues around the country and wherever possible if a problem has been identified consider how you might further reduce the risk whatever that could entail.
Are you involved when a race meeting is abandoned on the day?
Once declarations have been made at the 48 or 24 hour stage it is a Steward and Racecourses decision, however, if we happened to be present we would probably be invited to comment. If a situation arises prior to declaration time, such as flooding, damage to the course through vandalism or as we have seen in the past aircraft crashing on to the course and fire engines irreparably damaging the course then we would visit and send a report to the Racecourse Department at the British Horseracing Authority stating the reason for early abandonment.
What have been the major improvements which you have seen since you started your current role?
Generally speaking the most major improvement has been the introduction of plastic running rail, during 1985, 1989 and 1994 the majority Levy Board but some racecourse funded, over 110 miles of plastic running rail has been introduced. The costs incurred to introduce the plastic running rail were further exacerbated by the racecourses having to remove the old concrete posts and wooden railing.
The national faller rate over fences has come down since I started my job and we are currently engaged with Exeter University carry out a study on horse vision. You never know it might be as simple as painting the take-off boards a different colour that might help horses measure up themselves before they reach an obstacle. Unfortunately none of our fellow overseas authorities keep records of fallers which would have helped us make a more informed decision on this if that is what is concluded after the study.
Do you still miss the thrill of riding?
There is no doubt that race riding is a young man’s game and I was lucky enough to have a few good days, obviously you miss the big race days in particular, but I have no great ambition to get on anything except an aeroplane – but I am also a reluctant flier!!
We would like to thank Richard and British Horseracing Authority for their help with this blog.
Blog by Stephen Wallis, Visitor Services Team