Running and riding stewards’ enquiries have been in the headlines recently with the cases of World Trip at Hereford and Beaufort at Newbury. Rather than tiptoe around the decisions of the stewards and judicial panel, which is all that could be done given the law as it is and would make for a very boring article, I will instead cover issues with the stewarding process, rules and information availability that I think need to be addressed.
In the World Trip case at Hereford, as well as the rule breach from Callum McKinnes it was found that both McKinnes and Camilla Cotton, trainer Olly Murphy’s representative on the day, had lied to the stewards. Cotton had stated that she was satisfied with McKinnes’s ride on World Trip even though she was not. This lie was the result of a stewarding process that I think should not be in place.
Since the start of 2016, there have been 474 running and riding stewards’ enquiries and on 322 occasions, the stewards have asked the trainer or their representative if they were satisfied with the ride. On 34 of those 322 occasions, the trainer of their representative had said that they were dissatisfied with the ride or made a comment on how the ride could have been better and in 31 of the 34 cases, the jockey received a ban while there was no fine for the trainer or ban for the horse.
Therefore, if Cotton had said that she wasn’t satisfied with the ride then she would likely have been throwing McKinnes under the bus and understandably, given that she’s friends with McKinnes and travelled to the races with him, she wouldn’t want to do that.
The stewarding process put her in an uncomfortable and unnecessary position. I think the stewards should be the only people deciding if the ride was satisfactory or not and do not need any input from others regarding this. The trainer or their representative should be asked what the riding instructions were and that should be the end of their involvement in the enquiry.
Rule (F)37.1 states that a jockey must be seen to ask their horse for timely, real and substantial efforts to achieve the best possible position and rule (F)37.2 states that a jockey must be seen to take all other reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to ensure the horse is given a full opportunity to achieve the best possible position.
If ‘other’ is removed from the second of those rules, it’s difficult to understand the need for the first one particularly when the detail of it creates uncertainty. What exactly is a timely effort?
Horses are ridden with different tactics which means that efforts are made at different times and races are run at different paces. A horse making up plenty of ground in the closing stages may cause people to think that the ride was misjudged but it may also be that the ride was a far more efficient one given the pace than many of the opposition so would this be considered timely or not?
And if a horse has to be ridden quietly and curls up under pressure, how does a jockey ride appropriately to give the horse the best chance of winning while being seen to ask the horse for substantial effort? Are very inexperienced jockeys also expected to give timely and substantial efforts that would be in keeping with a fully-fledged professional?
It is expected that these jockeys are likely to ride to a below average standard due to their inexperience so should they be expected to time their effort perfectly and give a horse a strong ride?
177 of the 474 enquiries and 47 of the 63 bans concerned amateurs, apprentices, conditionals or claiming professionals which may suggest that expectations are not being kept in line with experience. I think that rule (F)37.1 should be removed as this takes away any uncertainty or confusion surrounding it and rule (F)37.2, with ‘other’ removed, fulfils the requirements of the rule anyway.
It could be that rule (F)37.1 is currently in place to assist the stewards in what they should be looking for from the jockey, while asking the trainer or their representative if they were satisfied with the ride could also be considered this too.
The need for these could be removed by having a centralised professional panel of highly experienced racereaders as part of a centralised professional stewarding team. Given their extensive experience, they wouldn’t need the opinion of the trainer or their representative as to whether a ride was satisfactory or not as they would easily be able to identify when it wasn’t.
They wouldn’t need guidance from the rules regarding the effort that a jockey should make as they would know this and they would have knowledge of individual horses and their tendencies which would guide their expectations of the ride required to achieve the best possible position. They would be able to analyse the pace of a race, which would guide decisions over whether a ride was misjudged or not.
They could also make judgements based on the style of individual jockeys as they would have seen them ride before so could judge their actions based on previous rides accordingly, meaning that the rides of inexperienced jockeys could be assessed based on their ability rather than against the ability of a fully-fledged professional.
And, due to it being a centralised panel, decisions may not need to be made on the day if, for example, it is the last race and detailed analysis needs to be carried out. These are just some of the benefits that a centralised panel would bring but as this suggestion has been made for many years with no hint of budging, it is starting to feel a little like p-ing in the wind.
The case of Getaway Jewel at Sedgefield raised an issue with the penalties handed out in cases of a jockey being found to have failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures to obtain the best possible placing. Becky Smith was found guilty of this by the stewards when riding Getaway Jewel at Sedgefield on 4th December and received a 14-day ban. Just 11 days later, Smith was once again riding Getaway Jewel at Catterick. I think that this is possible sends out the wrong message for the sport.
Since the start of 2016, there have been 13 cases where a horse has been banned from running for 40 days. In all bar the World Trip case, the trainer was also fined so it seems that a horse being banned is intertwined with a trainer being found guilty too. I think that the two don’t have to be linked in this way and in cases where a jockey is found to have failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures to obtain the best possible placing, a 40-day ban for the horse should also be an automatic penalty.
There was much disgust on social media over the bans and fines handed out by the stewards, which have since been quashed or reduced on appeal, in the Beaufort case at Newbury. And yet, only the stewards had access to footage that would have allowed an opinion to be formed based on the ride itself rather than forming opinions due to other cases and the horse’s demeanour.
Shortly after jumping 3 out, Beaufort goes out of shot and only appears again in the shot on the finish line. The only head-on replay showed Beaufort from around halfway between the final two hurdles until a few strides after the last, with Sheehan not exerting any pressure before the last hurdle and then nudging the horse along in the few strides that are shown after jumping it, so this is insufficient evidence for the viewer to form an informed opinion on the matter.
A much longer head-on replay, for example from 2 out at courses with long straights and from the start of the straight at courses with short straights until all horses have crossed the line, would allow viewers to see what happens to horses that are some way behind the leaders and potentially identify something that is useful for analysis. A head-on replay was present on the judicial panel decision of the World Trip case so it appears that this is available. I would like to see such a replay be available online for all races.
Some of these suggestions do require significant change to the current situation and may not currently be possible but hopefully, in the years to come, these can be put into action for the benefit of the sport, its competitors and viewers.