Christophe Soumillon's two-month ban could be extended after police intervention

Christophe Soumillon was emotional at Longchamp on Sunday after his near-miss in the Arc
Christophe Soumillon could have his two-month ban extended, or have his licence withdrawn indefinitelyCredit: Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)

Christophe Soumillon faces the prospect of having his two-month suspension extended to as much as six months, or even having to reapply for his licence, following the intervention of the ministry of the interior on behalf of France’s gaming police, the Police des Jeux.

Soumillon was banned for two months by Saint-Cloud stewards after knocking Rossa Ryan out of the saddle with his elbowwhile manoeuvring his horse in the Group 3 Prix Thomas Bryon on the eve of Arc weekend.

Soumillon apologised immediately for an incident he described as "totally unacceptable" but, in addition to the action taken by the stewards, he lost his position as retained rider for the Aga Khan.

Details of the police concerns were published in French racing online daily Jour de Galop on Saturday evening and France Galop have confirmed to the Racing Post they have received a letter from the ministry of the interior and that it has been passed on to Soumillon.

The ten-time champion jockey now has a fixed period of time to respond and France Galop will then pass his observations back to the ministry without additional commentary.

The Police des Jeux have left open the question of a longer ban against a withdrawal of licence for an indeterminate period.

But in framing his behaviour as "incompatible with the maintenance of a licence," the police have raised the possibility that Soumillon could be prevented from riding for a significant period when the ministry of the interior makes its final decision.

In that case there would be no appeal to France Galop stewards and Soumillon could either take his case to an administrative judge to seek a stay of the decision, or else reapply for his licence after a suitable period of time, in all likelihood not before six months has elapsed.

Their case for increasing the punishment is understood not just to revolve around the incident with Ryan at Saint-Cloud, but rather frames it against a series of infractions during the course of 2022.

Christophe Soumillon before the Prix de L'arc de TriompheLongchamp 2.10.22 Pic: Edward Whitaker
Christophe Soumillon has received the letter from the ministry of the interior laying out arguments for an increase in his banCredit: Edward Whitaker

Soumillon’s current ban runs up to and including December 12. In the case of a six-month ban, he would be out of action until mid-April.

A withdrawal of his licence would almost certainly prevent him from riding for longer still.

It is the second time in the space of a week that the role in racing of the Police des Jeux and, by extension, the French government, has surfaced following the decision to replace Pierre-Charles Boudot’s rolling bans with an indefinite removal of his licence.

Every licence request from a jockey, trainer or owner has to be placed before the ministry for their approval, before France Galop then either grant or deny the application.

What will be surprising to foreign eyes in the case of Soumillon is that the Police des Jeux have taken an interest in a matter which, on the face of it, falls under the conduct of the sport and is not tied to any criminal wrongdoing.

The ministry of the interior’s jurisdiction in such matters was most recently codified in a 1997 government decree, which gives the Police des Jeux supervisory powers in the area of public order.

They can ask for a ban or suspension to be revisited if they believe it is in the public interest, or if an incident or personality has threatened the image of racing in a way that supersedes the sporting offence committed.

Additionally, the police may take into consideration that the incident could have led to criminal prosecution had Ryan suffered serious injury or even worse.

What is the Police des Jeux?

The current incarnation of the Service Central des Courses et Jeux (SCCJ) dates from a police reorganisation in 2008, though it has watched over racing and casinos in France since the 19th century.

In 2012 the service sprang to international attention when arresting several high-profile members of France’s world champion handball team in connection with an enquiry into match fixing in a league fixture between Montpellier and Rennes.

Since then the Police des Jeux have been involved in several raids on training and breeding premises in the pursuit of suspected doping activities within racing, including those concerning Guy Cherel in September 2018 and Andrea Marcialis, who was first detained in October 2020 and indicted the following March.

In 2019 a new policy directed against doping in racing was introduced by the ministry of the interior, while Commissioner Stephane Piallat – who took charge of the SCCJ in April 2021 – is seen as a particularly proactive leader of the service.

Read more:

Christophe Soumillon banned for two months after elbowing Rossa Ryan

France Galop will pursue change to rules following Soumillon elbow incident

Christophe Soumillon loses Aga Khan job but may continue to ride owner's horses

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Scott BurtonFrance correspondent