Cheltenham rethink after second dead-heat caused by poor light in five years
Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse has indicated further thought will be given to the timing of races after for the second time in five years poor light forced the officiating judge to call a dead-heat in the Listed bumper that closed Saturday's card.
Elle Est Belle and Ishkhara Lady shared the glory after the murky conditions left judge Guy Lewis unable to determine from the image available to him whether either horse was actually in front.
That verdict surprised many on social media, as it did those exchange punters who supported Ishkhara Lady at 1.01 in betting on the photo, while Elle Est Belle was matched at 90 in running.
The outcome produced a sense of deja vu as in 2016 there was a dead-heat in the same race when Irish Roe and My Khaleesi could not be separated by the judge following a finish fought out in poor light.
On that occasion the race was run at 4.05, yet although this season's contest – the last of seven on the card – was programmed for 3.55pm, 23 minutes before sunset, darkness was falling rapidly over Cheltenham. On Sunday, despite Cheltenham hosting only six races, the finale was run at 4.05pm, just 12 minutes before sunset.
"We will certainly work with the BHA to minimise the risk of something like that happening again," said Claisse.
"All these times are programmed by the BHA to produce sensible gaps between races at different tracks. On Saturday we were well ahead of sunset time when scheduling a race at 3.55pm but it may be something we need to consider with the BHA for the future."
Asked whether timings could be brought forward, Claisse – who said a light could not be shone on winning lines due to safety fears – added: "A number of factors have to be taken into account when we look at how we might minimise that risk.
"If we started a card earlier it might mean ITV ended up covering a bumper at the end of the card, which is not what they normally do – the bumper on Saturday was televised because ITV had airtime for a fifth race.
"You can start meetings with a bumper, but you have to bear in mind we have a low sun problem at Cheltenham, and when you have a bumper to finish a card you don't run the risk of having to miss out obstacles.
"We also need to be careful if putting in hurdles after first running a bumper because we could jeopardise the set-up of the racecourse if there was a lot of rain."
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