Roger Varian: “While the article has split opinion, it has raised an issue”
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
ROGER VARIAN has leapt to the defence of his racing secretary Chris Humpleby, whose award-winning article on Newmarket’s social issues has come in for stinging criticism from the town’s mayor, trainer John Berry.
The article, which won the author the under-26 prize in the Martin Wills writing awards and is reproduced in full in Sunday’s Racing Post, was described in Berry’s blog in an uncharacteristically personal attack as “a terribly poor piece” and “tabloid nonsense at its very worst”.
Berry further questioned Humpleby’s qualification for commenting on the town’s issues, and incorrectly jumped to the conclusion that he can have been talking only about his experiences with Varian’s staff, which he was not.
In the blog, published on Friday evening, Berry admitted that as mayor he tends to be defensive when Newmarket is criticised, but he takes Humpleby to task for “making no attempt to investigate or analyse” his subject, and for failing to acknowledge all the good work done by Racing Welfare, the Racing Centre, the Town Pastors scheme and other organisations and individuals in the town.
He has since admitted his mistake in assuming Humpleby was talking about Varian’s staff, but he remains disappointed at what he views as the lack of balance and proper investigation.
He said: “I thought it was one-sided and meandering, and very unfair to Newmarket as a community and to a lot of people who do a lot of good work here.”
He added: “You would be hard pressed to find another industry with anything like as extensive and all-embracing network of support for any employee who’s ever had any problem as racing has through Racing Welfare. It’s not that people aren’t recognising there’s a problem and are ignoring it. It’s quite the opposite.”
Personal attack ‘unnecessary’
Varian was on Saturday vigorous in his defence of Humpleby, while acknowledging good work is indeed already being done by Berry and others.
He said: “Chris is a thoroughly decent guy who has been a pleasure to employ. He’s a young guy, working hard, and I think he’s a very talented writer too. He acknowledges there’s a lot of good work going on in town, but is saying we could do more.
“As mayor, of course John is perfectly entitled to point out all of the work being done to deal with social problems, and it’s good he has highlighted the organisations and individuals from whom young people can get help.
“That’s to be applauded, but he could have defended the town as mayor and explained all of the good work going on behind the scenes without attacking Chris in such a direct and personal manner. Chris doesn’t need to be reading that sort of stuff about himself.”
He added: “Chris enjoys Newmarket, and enjoys working in the town. What he’s written isn’t intended as a slur on Newmarket and he sees plenty to like in the town but, while these problems exist all over the country, racing is a labour-intensive industry and Newmarket has many more vulnerable young people living away from home.
“John has put two and two together and made 76, as he thinks Chris is talking about my lads. He actually joined me in February and had already submitted his piece, but I don’t think he’s talking either about the lads at Ed Dunlop’s, where he was previously employed. He’s talking about a problem in the town, below the surface.
“While Chris’s article has split opinion in Newmarket, it has raised an issue and got people talking – and that’s productive in itself.”
‘It’s got people talking, so it’s job done’
Humpleby, whose placement while on the BHA’s graduate development programme was with the Racing Post, admits to being left “a bit black and blue” after Berry’s mauling, but he stands by what he wrote.
He also pointed out that he has more direct experience of Newmarket’s issues than Berry appreciates, having last year acted as the ‘appropriate adult’, in the absence of a parent or guardian, to a young stable worker who was being interviewed in custody after getting himself into trouble.
Humpleby said: “The award feels a little bit tarnished now, but I’m a big boy and I’ll get over it. It’s got people talking, so it’s done it’s job in that sense.
“John has to defend his patch and I can appreciate where he’s coming from, but I stand by my piece. For me, it was a case of ‘there are these problems, and although a lot of good work is already being done in the town we can always do more’.
“It wasn’t simply about the drink and drugs side of things, it was about the opportunity to educate young people here and broaden their horizons. A lot of people in racing only know horses, and if they left the sport tomorrow they would perhaps be lost. I think racing has a responsibility to show them there is more out there.”
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