Robbie Dunne is accused of bullying female rider Bryony Frost
Racing and the whole culture of the weighing room is in the dock on Tuesday when Robbie Dunne, a journeyman jump jockey, appears in front of the British Horseracing Authority’s independent disciplinary panel accused of bullying and harassing Bryony Frost, Britain’s most successful female jump jockey.
The one thing for sure is that no one; not Dunne, not Frost, nor racing, is likely to come out of it particularly well by the time the lawyers and a number of witnesses have dissected the issues involved.
Indeed, by the time this is finished, at the very least, Dunne is likely to be painted as a grade A misogynist, Frost incapable of riding a horse in a straight line and changing rooms across Britain’s 59 racecourses not fit for a professional sport in the 21st century.
The whole case may be seen as a man bullying a woman, about feminism and the equality of the sexes, but also as a generational issue – Dunne is more old school while Frost is 10 years younger – and possibly about the petty jealousies of people in competitive sport.
It is most unlikely to be portrayed as jockey versus jockey which, essentially, it is. That is because it brings into it jockeys self-policing racing by censuring colleagues who they believe ride dangerously and old established weighing-room pecking orders.
Dunne, who appears to have the weight of the weighing room behind him – even female jockeys have failed to publicly support Frost – faces a charge of conduct prejudicial to the good reputation of racing and acting in a violent or improper manner by the BHA, after Frost went to it in November last year to complain about his behaviour towards her.
Just three specific days have been picked out for consideration, although Frost and Dunne have a history of bad blood since when she was a conditional jockey, just making her way in the sport, and he is alleged to have stood naked in front of her in the men’s changing room.
Those race days, when Dunne is accused under Rule (J)19 – conduct prejudicial to horse racing – of “verbally abusing and threatening a fellow licensed jockey” took place at Stratford on July 8, 2020, at Uttoxeter on Aug 17, 2020, and at Southwell on Sept 3, 2020.
On the day at Southwell, Dunne blamed Frost for being ultimately responsible for the fatal fall of his mount Cillian’s Well.
The first time anyone outside the weighing room became aware of anything untoward between the two was when Frost said something cryptic about a “problem” with another jockey after winning the King George VI Chase on Frodon last Christmas. It soon emerged that Dunne was the jockey.
Timeline of trouble
At the time a 120-page report was being compiled by Chris Watts, the BHA’s integrity officer. He completed it in April but left the BHA, if not under a cloud, certainly without fanfare, in August. In October the report was leaked to a Sunday newspaper, with the BHA electing to report itself to the information commissioner in the belief the leak had come from within its own integrity department.
If Dunne is found guilty of the principal charge of conduct prejudicial to the reputation of racing he could face anything from a fine ranging between £1,000 and £15,000 to a suspension of between one month and three years.
Six days have been put aside for the hearing – Tuesday to Thursday this week and the same days next week. It has taken more than a year to get to this stage, so it is probably too much to hope for a quick resolution.
Dunne, who declined to comment on any allegations in the leaked report, will attend in person and, while the BHA confirmed on Monday that Frost would appear as a witness, it remained unclear whether it would be in person or remotely.