Furious owner threatens to quit racing as officials withdraw wrong horse
Owner Craig Buckingham said he will seriously consider turning his back on racing after an embarrassing error by officials meant his runner Magic Pulse was withdrawn from the £25,000 Sprint Final of the Grassroots Series at Nottingham on Wednesday.
The catalyst for the latest on-course blunder came when rival Operative went down in the stalls under champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa. After some good work from the stalls handlers he was eventually freed without injury, but instead of the unruly Operative being withdrawn, Magic Pulse was announced in error as the withdrawn horse on course.
Realising the mistake soon after, a correction was made, seemingly reinstating Magic Pulse and correctly ruling out Operative. However, after a delay to the loading process, a third announcement came stating the stewards had ordered Magic Pulse also to be withdrawn, as first announced.
“I’ve taken the day off to come and see the horse at my local track and we were very excited to see her run and, due to an administrative error that for some reason can’t be corrected, my horse can’t run for no fault of her own,” said an irate Buckingham.
“She wasn’t even in the stalls. The starter made a mistake. Fine, we accept that, everyone makes mistakes, but someone up here should have the balls to say it’s a mistake.
"They’ve corrected it over the PA, yet they’ve still withdrawn it. Where is the care for the owners in racing? I’m beginning to think nobody does [care] and I’ll be going home tonight and will be considering what I do with the rest of my horses. I’ve 23 in total on the Flat and over jumps.”
The error appears to have occurred when the starter contacted the clerk of the scales to call for the horse to be withdrawn, passing on in error the racecard number of Magic Pulse, who had yet to be loaded. That message was then relayed to the announcer before being made public on course.
Buckingham added: “We sent the horse here because we thought the six furlongs would suit her. We’re taking her to the sales in November, so this was a further opportunity to enhance her form.
“It leaves a very, very nasty taste and, again, no one seems to care about the owners.”
Buckingham is set to be represented by two runners on Thursday, Golden Vision in the 3.05 at Huntingdon and Desirable Court in the 3.15 at Warwick.
Dan Skelton, who trains both horses as well as a large proportion of Buckingham's jumpers, said in a tweet to the BHA's media account: "I've spent 20mins on phone to Craig Buckingham placating him and getting him in the frame of mind to run two of his horses tomorrow. Mistakes like today's fiasco @nottinghamraces must be learnt from and accountability must be had to give stakeholders confidence."
Magic Pulse’s trainer David Griffiths was also left scratching his head and, while accepting the mistake was human error, asked why it had not been picked up on before the announcement was made public.
He said: “It’s disappointing. It’s human error and does happen, but there’s three or four officials down at the start and officials watching with radios. Surely you check and double check; you make sure you have the right horse. It’s not just one person’s fault, it should have been double checked and picked up.
“It’s more for the owner and the filly than me. The money was good and you’re not going to find a race like this on nice enough ground before the end of the season. They did reinstate her, but because it’s gone out on live TV all over the world, they then said they can’t reinstate her. It’s disappointing.”
Operative was 9-1 before withdrawal, with Magic Pulse at 33-1, and there was a 10p in the pound rule 4 deduction on bets placed before a new market was formed. The race went to 7-2 joint favourite Belated Breath.
A full inquiry was held after racing, and stipendiary steward Greg Pearson said: “It would appear the starter has withdrawn Magic Pulse in error.
“He’s radioed through to the clerk of the scales the incorrect withdrawn horse, and scales has communicated that to the broadcast office, which has then announced on course that number nine Magic Pulse has been withdrawn, which came as a surprise to most of us and anyone watching the race, because we could see number 17 upside down in the stalls."
He continued: "The stewards then communicated through the internal phone and questioned whether the right horse had been withdrawn. One of the stewards then came out to scales and asked them to radio through to the start and ask if they’re sure they want to withdraw number nine.
"He’s realised his mistake at that point in time and said,' No, I want to withdraw 17'. We confirmed the withdrawal of number 17, Operative, and that created a quandary then of what to do with number nine.
"We had to deem if it was appropriate for number nine to be reinstated into the field and we were uncomfortable with number nine going from being withdrawn to taking its place in the field. Upon confirming with the starter that he had intended to withdraw number 17 and inadvertently radioed through number nine, we thought the most appropriate course of action was that the withdrawal of number nine should stand.”
Pearson said there were no set guidelines or precedent to say Magic Pulse could not be reinstated but felt it was the correct decision to withdraw him after the announcement had gone public.
“It just doesn’t seem right to reinstate the horse,” he said. “Some punters might have refunded their money and placed it on other horses. It creates all sorts of implications betting wise that we might not be even aware of.”
Asked why there was no safety net in place to double check the starter had named the right horse, Pearson said: “Situations like this arise and are the catalyst to reviewing systems and processes and, while I’m not being critical of the current process, I'm sure that’s a decision that will be taken in London – whether we can improve the situation and do things better in future, as we certainly don’t want a repeat incident of this.
"There was no precedent to act on and you have to think on your feet. Trainer and owner were highly aggrieved by the situation and I fully understand it from their perspective, but we’re trying to safeguard punters and the industry as a whole and made the decision we thought was correct in the circumstances.”
Brant Dunshea, the BHA's chief regulatory officer, said on Twitter: “It goes without saying that the entire team are disappointed that Magic Pulse was withdrawn in error. We are acutely aware of the impact that an incident of human error like this can have, not least on the connections of the horse.
“We will take a full and frank look into what happened before determining what steps we will now take.”
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