Revised distances point to wrong Sandown winning post being used twice
As racing prepares for one of its biggest showcase fixtures of the year in the Cheltenham Festival, the BHA and the company at the centre of the photo-finish blunder at Sandown on Saturday declined to shed further light on the error amid claims that more than one race was affected.
On Saturday, the sport was forced to deal with the self-inflicted embarrassment of having to revise the result of the EBF National Hunt Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final, a race shown live on ITV4, when it emerged a photo-finish image provided by racecourse operator Racetech of the wrong winning post had initially been sent to the judge.
One For Rosie was initially announced as the winner on course, only for the decision to be overturned and the race correctly awarded to Third Wind once the image at the second winning post was received – a decision which cost course bookmakers on and off-course thousands of pounds in paying out on two results.
However, it emerged on Sunday that the result of the first race at Sandown – a 2m juvenile handicap hurdle – may have also been called incorrectly with the original finishing distances altered later in the afternoon.
Initially the distances back to the placed horses were given as 3¾l, 11l and 9l but the BHA subsequently changed the margins to 4l, 10l and 12l. As the race was run on the hurdles course, it too was run to the second winning post rather than the first, which is used for chases.
When asked about the reasons for the changes, Racetech declined to comment on the possibility the camera feeds were incorrectly rigged from the start of racing, resulting in the mistakes for both races.
Five recent photo-finish controversies
Oneida Tribe/Pinch Of Ginger
January 4, 2018 Bangor
Race called a dead-heat with no reverse mirror to check image. Oneida Tribe subsequently demoted for interference
Catching On/Shanty Town
January 4, 2018 Bangor
Third place called as a dead-heat with no reverse mirror to check image. Shanty Town awarded third place at BHA inquiry
Bird For Life/Oregon Gift
March 23, 2018 Kempton
Bird For Life initially awarded race by a nose only for the judge to revise his decision
Rio Ronaldo/Vibrant Chords
July 6, 2018 Sandown
Rio Ronaldo initially awarded race by a nose only for the judge to revise his decision
July 21, 2018 Market Rasen
Race called a dead-heat with no reverse mirror to check image
On Saturday Will Hudson, the stipendiary steward on duty at Sandown, admitted the cameras were incorrectly aligned for the EBF Final and that both should have been directed to the second winning post.
On Sunday a BHA spokesperson said: "As outlined in our statement yesterday, we will be investigating events at Sandown thoroughly as a matter of priority. This will encompass all aspects and factors relating to the operating of the photo finish software and its various functions on a raceday."
One man who continues to be philosophical about the situation is One For Rosie's trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
On Sunday he said: "I've got sympathy with Sandown and I’m sure it will never happen again, will it? I’m sure they'll make sure of it."
Who shall we blame for the fiasco at Sandown on Saturday? Who will take the responsibility for the mistakes that make racing's administrators look amateurish and incompetent as the sport begins a crucial week in the full glare of the public and media spotlight?
Those of us who follow racing will have become accustomed to the recurring cock-ups that blight the sport – let's not embarrass it further by calling it an industry – but it is still surprising they happen with such frequency in an era when the use of technology should be helping to ensure there is less reliance on fallible humans doing their job correctly every time.
Of course, if you set up a system in a way that invites error, such as by having two winning posts and requiring jockeys as well as photo-finish operators to adapt each time, then you have to expect mistakes will occur. And the laws of the universe dictate that the those mistakes will occur at the most unfortunate moments, such as on a busy Saturday, in front of ITV cameras, days before the biggest racing event of the year.
With the apportioning of blame must come a frank assessment of what went wrong at Sandown and the bigger question of why it keeps happening must be answered.
That will inevitably come some time after the Cheltenham Festival when the best plan, the only plan, might be to join with racing's administrators in crossing our fingers, closing our eyes and hoping the sport can avoid more public humiliation.
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