Talking Horses: racing hopes for stability as Struthers returns to PJA

<span>Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Nearly two years after his departure from the Professional Jockeys Association amid the toxic fallout of the Robbie Dunne bullying case, the PJA announced on Monday that Paul Struthers, its former chief executive, will return to the role full-time in the new year after proving to be the “overwhelming choice” of a selection panel.

“Even without his previous time at the PJA,” Nick Attenborough, the association’s chair, said in a statement on Monday, “he would have been the strongest candidate given his regulatory knowledge, leadership experience and expertise in membership and stakeholder comms, crisis management and PR.”

Related: Jonbon delivers on chasing credentials with first win at Cheltenham

The earnest hope of both the PJA’s members and the sport as a whole will be that Struthers’ reappointment brings some much-needed stability and forward-thinking to a key industry body, and draws a line under the most turbulent period in its history.

He proved to be a highly effective advocate for the men and women who run the daily risks associated with race-riding during nearly a decade as CEO from February 2012, but resigned following the conclusion of an extended disciplinary process in which Dunne was found to have conducted a prolonged campaign of intimidation and bullying against fellow rider Bryony Frost, both on and off the track.

It was many months, during which several significant aspects of the case were leaked to the media, before the case reached a hearing, and the proceedings caused further damage to the weighing room’s image. Many jockeys took exception to a suggestion by Louis Weston, who presented the British Horseracing Authority’s case, that there was a “rancid” culture among riders, and the PJA’s initial response to the panel’s finding against Dunne failed to acknowledge that Frost had been bullied, suggesting merely that she had “felt bullied”.

While that position was corrected shortly afterwards, with Struthers conceding that “we certainly accept we could have phrased it differently”, he announced that he was stepping down as chief executive less than a fortnight later, saying that the role had “taken a significant toll on my family and personal life, and it is the right time to step aside”.

Jon Holmes, the chair of the PJA during the Dunne case and a leading sports agent, left the organisation in May this year following increasing unrest in the weighing room, over issues including the introduction of new whip rules and the removal of racecourse saunas. Ian McMahon, appointed chief executive in April 2022 despite having no previous experience in racing, left the role in June, prompting Struthers’ initial return to the Association on a consultancy basis.

“Obviously my previous time at the PJA didn’t end how I wanted it to,” Struthers said on Monday, “but as difficult as it was, leaving when I did was undoubtedly the right thing to do at the time, both for myself and for the PJA.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed the [subsequent] challenge of setting up my own consultancy and trying to make Moya Sport a success, but the chance to rejoin the PJA was too good an opportunity to pass up. I am incredibly grateful and honoured to be entrusted with this role for a second time.

“With my prior experience, time to reflect on things I would have done differently and a fresh perspective that my break from the role has allowed, I am excited to be returning to lead the talented and passionate PJA team in representing and supporting the hard-working, dedicated men and women of the weighing room.”

Appy days?

Racing can be an expensive sport to follow if you want to go beyond the once-a-week armchair experience with ITV Racing and take a deeper dive into the day-to-day form. Full access to online database products like the Racing Post and Timeform will set you back at least £30 a month, while Racing TV, the subscription-only channel which carries live action from around half of Britain’s tracks including such high-profile venues as Cheltenham, Aintree, Epsom, Newmarket, Goodwood and York, is £24.98 a month.

As a result, a press release last week to announce the launch of “The Racing App”, accompanied by the claim that it would “smash the paywall for racing fans”, certainly caught the eye.

Runners in action at Cheltenham on Sunday.
Runners in action at Cheltenham on Sunday. Photograph: David Davies for The Jockey Club/PA

The only apparent catch was a requirement to have, or open, an account with the bookmaker Fitzdares, but with no obligation to bet or deposit funds in order to watch all British racing live “for zero cost”.

I tried it on Friday, and it worked very well – the picture from Cheltenham, in fact, was about 0.5sec in front of the one on the press room TVs, and a couple ahead of the stream on my laptop via Racing TV. And I had not even registered a card on the account.

Lingfield: 12.00 Bucksy Des Epeires, 12.35 Artemis Kimbo, 1.10 Sao Carlos, 1.45 Git Maker, 2.20 Operation Manna, 2.55 Good Time Ahead (nap), 3.28 Woodie Flash.

Fakenham: 12.10 Francina, 12.45 Circle Of Hope, 1.20 Star Legend, 1.55 My Gift To You, 2.30 Georgi Girl, 3.05 Extraordinary Man, 3.35 Tramuntana.

Hereford: 12.20 Adjuvant, 12.55 Bertie Wooster (nb), 1.30 Tedwin Hills, 2.05 Aston Martini, 2.40 Sammylou, 3.15 Imac Wood, 3.45 Wee Tony.

Chelmsford: 5.00 Champagne Prince, 5.30 Struck Gold, 6.00 Natacata, 6.30 Night On Earth, 7.00 Dicko The Legend, 7.30 Diomed Spirit, 8.00 Kentucky Kingdom, 8.30 Clipsham Gold.

Wolverhampton: 5.15 Forgotten Treasure, 5.45 Bint Alfella, 6.15 Nature Watch, 6.45 Dubai Melody, 7.15 Roman Crown, 7.45 Monks Dream, 8.15 Pedro Valentino.

Subsequent inquiries suggest that a registered payment method could become a requirement, but still without any obligation to deposit funds, bringing the app into line with some others on the market.