Three weighing-room valets who gave evidence last week to the disciplinary hearing in which Robbie Dunne is accused of bullying and harassing his fellow rider Bryony Frost between February and September last year refused to work for Frost when she took two rides at Fontwell Park on Tuesday.
Graham Piper, Lewis Piper and Mark Sinfield gave evidence to the hearing over a confrontation between the two riders at Southwell last September after a race in which Dunne’s mount, Cillian’s Well, suffered a fatal injury. During the incident, Dunne is alleged to have “promised” Frost that he would put her “through a wing [of a fence]” when riding against her in the future.
Their apparent boycott of Britain’s most successful female rider, who told the hearing last week that she felt “isolated” in the weighing room after making a formal complaint against Dunne, emerged when Chris Maude, a former jockey and now master valet who employs all three men, gave evidence on Tuesday.
Asked by Louis Weston QC, who is presenting the British Horseracing Authority’s case against Dunne, if he was aware that the valets had refused to work for Frost at Fontwell, Maude replied: “I did, yes. I think they’re upset that it’s been thought and been in the press that they condone any sort of bullying behaviour.”
He added: “I think they were very upset that their names have been in the press and they’ve found the whole thing quite harrowing to be honest. So they said they would rather not work for her today.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Dunne himself gave evidence in his defence, including his account of the confrontation at Southwell as well as several more incidents over a seven-month period in 2020 which the BHA suggests amount to a targeted campaign of bullying and harassment.
Dunne told the hearing that no complaints had been made against him until 8 September 2020, a day after he allegedly received a phone call in which a threat was made to “break his legs” if he did not alter his behaviour towards Frost.
He also suggested in his witness statement to the hearing that an incident at Stratford in July 2020, when he was seen to remonstrate with Frost as horses were pulling up after a race, was the first time he had confronted her and that previously his relationship with her had been “good or perfect”.
However, Weston suggested that Dunne’s targeting of Frost predated the Stratford incident, and asked him about a tweet he sent shortly before the Virtual Grand National in April 2020, a simulation to replace the abandoned Grand National at Aintree in which Frost had been due to ride Yala Enki.
The tweet read: “If Yala Enki wins this cartoon race, wonder will the interview be as far fetched as they do be in the real race?” Weston repeatedly asked Dunne why he had “targeted” Yala Enki out of the 40 horses in the race, and while the jockey admitted it had been “unprofessional” to send the tweet, he did not say why he had done so.
Eventually, Weston said: “Try harder. May I suggest you’re lying about it? Why did you do it?” Dunne replied: “I’ve said it was unprofessional, I’ve said it was inappropriate.” Weston responded: “It’s not unprofessional, you were bullying her.”
After watching a video of the fall at Southwell in which Cillian’s Well was killed, Dunne said Frost’s mount, Wisecracker, “comes straight across my horse” and “causes my horse to fall, fatally injured”. He insisted that when he subsequently told Frost he would put her through the wing of a fence, it “wasn’t a threat, it was a figure of speech”, adding that it “was not a threat to physically harm her”.
The former champion jockey Richard Johnson also gave evidence to the hearing on Tuesday, telling the panel he had witnessed the subsequent confrontation between the two and that he “did not remember” Dunne threatening to put Frost through a wing. “It’s a phrase I’ve heard lots of times in the heat of the moment,” Johnson said, “and never seen anyone do.”