Horse hit by drone in 'reckless' parade ring incident at Killarney
Killarney racecourse manager Micheal Lucey has described the incident that led to Keith Watson's runner St Killenagh being struck by a drone in the parade ring before he contested a handicap chase on Tuesday night as "reckless".
The matter has been referred to the Turf Club for investigation and, while Watson feels Turf Club stewards did not take the matter seriously enough on the night, both Lucey and Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan insist their powers are ultimately limited in relation to regulating such incidents.
According to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) small unmanned aircraft (drones) and rockets order, which is a statutory instrument and so is enshrined in law, it is illegal to fly a drone closer than 120 metres over an area where more than 12 people have assembled.
"It's something the racing industry will need to be aware of," Lucey said of the incident.
"These things are small and easily disguised and brought into a racecourse. I'm not sure what protocols will have to be put in place to ensure they're not there, but certainly advertising and signage to the effect that drones aren't to be used and that prosecutions will follow if they are."
Drone landed on St Killenagh
The individual operating the drone is understood to be an American who was situated near the mound between the parade ring and the final fence.
The drone was flying over the parade ring and briefly landed on St Killenagh, causing a commotion, after which the operator was approached by a delegation of senior Turf Club stewards, including Michael O'Donoghue and Peter Matthews.
"He was a tourist and I'm not sure he understood the gravity of what he was doing," Lucey added. "But what happened was reckless, there's no doubt about that.
"I didn't speak to the guy but the Turf Club did, and unfortunately they didn't get details from him, so we don't have any information with which to follow it up.
"If that sort of information was available, it might have been interesting to see what the legal take on it was, because sometimes an example needs to be set.
"The thing is, these things can be activated remotely away from a racecourse, so there's no surefire way of preventing it happening again."
He had no issue with the latter episode – "that's racing" – but felt St Killenagh's chance was compromised in his handicap chase, which was one of the races delayed as a result of the fall that led to Ana O'Brien being airlifted to hospital.
After pulling the horse up, rider Mark Enright reported to the stewards his mount never travelling, and Watson explained that St Killenagh was lit up by the incident.
'I'm very cross with the stewards'
"I never saw the drone because it was behind me all the time, driving the horse mad, and it hit him on his back," said Watson, who indicated he has asked his solicitor to write a letter of complaint to the IAA.
"Physically he was fine, but he ran his race before he ever got to the start. I went into the stewards and I ate the heads off them, I don't mind saying. It was so dangerous it was unbelievable."
Watson stated Lucey had been "very good" following the incident and that he had received compensation from the racecourse by way of an ex gratia payment.
However, he is annoyed the drone operator was not brought to the attention of the Turf Club's head of security Chris Gordon, or the Gardai.
"I'm very cross with the stewards," he admitted. "They went and talked to the guy and let him go, drone and all, which I'm furious about."
Egan has defended the regulator's handling of the affair, and echoed Lucey's sentiments that legislating for such an incident is not straightforward.
"A drone shouldn't have been there, but the guy concerned didn't know what he was doing," Egan said. "We spoke to him and he folded the thing up straight away and apologised.
"It could've been very serious, but when there are 2,000 people at a race meeting it's not possible for the Turf Club to be responsible for them all, and it could just as easily have hit someone up in a bar or a grandstand.
"I'm not sure it's our responsibility to police the general public at a race meeting, although obviously if we come across something potentially dangerous we won't turn our backs on it."