Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake once again tackles the regulations of British interference rules, with another serious incident at Kempton catching his eye.

  • Monday 09 December
  • Blog
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 There was a great amount of wonderful action around the racing world in recent days that I could write about with great enthusiasm. However, it is an incident at a low-profile meeting at Kempton last Thursday that grabbed my attention, for it was yet another example of the highly-dangerous game that British racing continues to play with its interference rules.

 The race is question was a maiden for two-year-old fillies. The head-on view tells the story. The horse to focus on is the eventual winner in the white and black silks on the extreme left of the shot: 

Only the blindest of the blind would disagree that interference has taken place and that it was caused by the jockey on the winner. The question then progresses to what the riding offence was and what punishment should have been dished out. Here are the options as laid out in the rule book:

Careless riding is defined as “failing to take reasonable steps to avoid causing interference or causing interference by inattention or misjudgement.” If found guilty of this, the rider can be cautioned or suspended for anything from two days to 14 days.

Improper riding is defined as “causing interference by making a manoeuvre when he/she knew or ought reasonably to have known that interference could occur.” The punishments for this can be a suspension of between four and 21 days.

Dangerous riding is defined as “purposely interfering with another horse or rider, or riding in a way that is far below that of a competent and careful rider and where it would be obvious to such a competent and careful rider that riding in that way was likely to endanger the safety of a horse or rider.”

Crucially, the rule goes on to state that a rider can only be found guilty of dangerous riding if they cause interference that is serious enough to lead to a rival horse falling, almost falling or being seriously hampered. If found guilty of this offence, the offending rider’s mount is automatically disqualified and the rider will face a suspension of between 14 and 28 days.

In my opinion, this was a serious riding offence. The winning jockey Jack Mitchell would have been acutely aware that his mount, a two-year-old filly making her racecourse debut, was shifting notably left towards her rivals.

Not only did he make no effort to straighten her, he gave her another right-handed slap which served to accelerate her veering towards her rivals and led to her interfering with four separate rivals. Mercifully, the interference didn’t have any dire consequences on this occasion, but one wouldn’t need a vivid imagination to envisage how interference such as this could have had far more dramatic implications.

Jack Mitchell is a very experienced and accomplished jockey that currently resides in the top 20 riders in Britain by winners in 2019. He is a far better rider than he exhibited here. However, situations like this are not so much about the individual riders involved, as it is absolutely crucial to realise that such rides are rarely the result of incompetent jockeys riding incompetently, they tend to come about due to the stewards enabling such riding by failing to police the interference rules to anything approaching an appropriate level.

Jack Mitchell did what he did because there was no meaningful deterrent to make him think twice. Making sure of victory by interfering with rivals is an attractive option for many, as in Britain the possibility of losing the race in the stewards’ room is tiny as long as the winning margin is more than a few inches. The only penalty for such riding tends to be no more than being suspended for a few days at most.

Unsurprisingly, the above ride didn’t prove to be an exception to this. The acting stewards at Kempton allowed the result to stand and found Jack Mitchell guilty of careless riding, but only at the bottom end of the scale of that offence, giving him just a three-day ban. The slap on the wrist couldn’t have been much lighter.

So, what should have happened? Based on the above definitions, it certainly looked to be improper riding to this pair of eyes. The guidelines for the level of punishment for improper riding are as follows.

Considering the winner interfered with four individual horses, a ban of between 11 to 21 days would have been appropriate if this had taken place in a jurisdiction where the rules and their enforcement actually sought to act as a deterrent against such riding. 

If the above incident had happened in Australia or Hong Kong where such riding is properly deterred by the rules, the guilty rider would very much expect that sort of ban.

I’m blue in the face from writing/saying it, but this is far too important to ignore. The bamboozling level of leniency in the stewarding of the interference rules in Britain enables a brand of reckless riding that can so easily result in catastrophic falls.

Thankfully, this particular incident didn’t lead to a calamitous conclusion, but look no further than this example which was highlighted in this space last year to see what this sort of riding can lead to.

The question that was asked by that article is whether a jockey needs to be killed before the stewarding of interference is changed in British racing. Well over a year later, nothing has changed and we are still seeing dangerous incidents caused by reckless riding on a regular basis.

It seems it might well take a tragedy for those responsible for the interference rules to see the dangers that their leniency creates.

The solutions to this potentially calamitous situation are as simple as a number of minor changes to the words of the rules.

Firstly, the wording of the guidance to the interference rules in Britain should be changed so that less benefit of the doubt is given to the offender. In tight decisions, the benefit of doubt should be given to the innocent victim rather than the offender. This will lead to interference that impacts results being more regularly punished by demotion which will act as a deterrent to riders causing interference.

Secondly, the guidelines for the suspensions for careless and improper riding should be increased markedly. More meaningful punishments for causing interference will act as a meaningful deterrent that currently does not exist. 

Finally, the guidelines surrounding the dangerous riding rule need to be loosened. Right now, a rider can only be found guilty of dangerous riding if the interference they cause leads to a horse falling, almost falling or being seriously hampered.

This is a highly ill-advised feature of the rule, as incidents such be judged on their merits, not just their consequences. Yet, despite some shocking incidents that have indeed resulted in the carnage that the rule requires to be enforced, only one jockey has been found guilty of dangerous riding in the last 15 years, Tony Culhane on Mazzola on August 31st 2009.

The BHA have ignored these calls for long enough. Should they continue to ignore them, one wonders will those responsible be able to sleep at night if a jockey is mangled or worse as a result of their lenient interpretation of the rules that has made reckless riding so common on British racecourses.

Imagine it is your brother, sister, son or daughter that is the victim of such an incident? The stakes couldn’t be any higher here, enough is enough.

I love horse racing. I understand the importance of finding out what the best horse is. But if you think that is more important than taking basic measures to better protect the safety of the human beings that ride these horses, and the horses themselves, then I’m sorry, that is a very skewed outlook to have. 

Kevin Blake
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