BHA under fire after dropping charges against Harley
Martin Harley will not face a disciplinary hearing over his ride aboard Rebel Lightning at Chelmsford last month after the BHA dropped the charges just four days on from issuing them, having admitted it overlooked crucial evidence.
The news brought sharp rebukes for the regulator from the jockey's representatives, who said the BHA had dragged Harley's name through the mud by mistakenly charging him with failing to ensure the horse was run on its merits.
Although no inquiry was held at Chelmsford by the raceday stewards, the ride was raised as a potential breach by the BHA's internal post-race review processes. However, headquarters staff failed to speak with local officials before announcing the charges on Tuesday.
Harley finished fifth of 13, beaten six lengths when not enjoying a clear run, information he relayed to the clerk of the scales. He also reported that Rebel Lightning took a wrong step coming off the bend, so he gave him time to recover. This vital information was not recorded, and when subsequently presented with both pieces of information the BHA's disciplinary officer decided Harley had no case to answer.
Harley's solicitor Rory Mac Neice said the BHA, which has suffered a series of self-inflicted wounds this year, must stop making "basic mistakes".
"The BHA through its officials did know about the entirety of Martin's post-race report because he delivered it to the BHA official,” he said. "The BHA failed to properly record Martin's report and then compounded its failure by not speaking to the local officials before deciding whether or not to bring charges.
"It's a series of very significant misjudgments by the BHA and they need to explain why that happened so they are able to reassure participants that this isn't going to happen again.
"The sort of charges that Martin faced have the potential to have a reputational impact on a rider, so participants are entitled to expect those charges to be made with very careful thought. Martin is riding overseas and I haven't had the opportunity of speaking to him yet about what will happen next."
BHA to become 'more active' in race reviews
BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey defended the regulator's original decision to bring charges, while offering an apology to Harley for the manner in which the affair has been handled.
"Reviewing races after the day is an important part of the BHA's regulatory function," he said. "It is an area we are looking to become more active in as we strive to do more to protect the sport's integrity.
"On the basis of the ride itself and the evidence considered by the team at head office we remain of the view that it was correct to take a further look at this ride, and the charges that ensued were based on this evidence.
"However, it later became clear there were two elements of the rider's report to BHA officials on the day. One element had not been recorded. Had this information been known we would not have pressed charges, and once the full details were established, the BHA immediately took the decision not to proceed with the charge.
"We apologise to Martin that the charges were brought in this manner."
However, Mac Neice questioned the BHA's assertion that the charges were justified on the video evidence.
"The video shows Martin's horse changing leads as it turned in and Martin's concern for his horse, clearly giving it a chance to recover before asking for its effort," he said.
"The BHA needs to explain whether or not the officials who reviewed the film noticed the change of leads and if they did what did they think that meant, because the statement suggests attempts to justify their position based on the film, but it completely exonerates Martin.
"That raises serious doubts about the ability of the officials who reviewed the film back at 75 High Holborn to read a race accurately and therefore doubts about whether they should be doing that job."
PJA chief Paul Struthers also expressed frustration on Harley's behalf in a statement.
He said: "While we are pleased that the charges have been withdrawn, Martin remains very disappointed and angry that they were issued in the first place."
He added: "There is no excuse for getting it wrong, when doing so could cause significant damage to someone's career.
"It is to the BHA's credit that they have quickly acknowledged they were wrong to issue charges, have withdrawn them and issued a qualified apology to Martin, but it was all so avoidable in the first place."