Russell escapes with caution after punching Kings Dolly
Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan said on Saturday Davy Russell had been given a "sufficient deterrent" after the jump jockey escaped with a caution for an incident in which he punched a horse on the head.
According to Egan, the two-time Irish champion jump jockey expressed genuine remorse and said he would not be repeating the offence as he was found guilty by a stewards panel of bringing the sport into disrepute.
Russell was called to a Turf Club referrals committee inquiry held before racing at Killarney to explain his actions at Tramore on August 18 when video emerged of his striking Kings Dolly on the head with his fist before the start of a mares' handicap hurdle.
He represented himself at the hearing, in which he was charged with breaching rule 272(i), which relates to "conduct or behaviour . . . which is prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horse racing".
Shay Quinn, who presented the case for the Turf Club, said: "Davy was found in breach of rule 272, which is acting in a prejudicial manner to the proper conduct and integrity of horseracing. The panel considered his record in coming to their decision and cautioned him concerning his future responsibilities in this regard."
The incident was not picked up by officials until a video was widely circulated on social media, provoking widespread condemnation.
It revealed Kings Dolly approaching the 'show' hurdle – an obstacle riders show their horses before the race – at speed, coming to an abrupt halt that lifted Russell briefly out of the saddle. Russell then appeared to strike the horse on the back of the head with his right fist.
Egan said: "The panel have plenty of discretion as to what sort of a penalty they could issue. In this case based on the evidence that was given, they felt a caution was the appropriate penalty.
"Davy was genuinely remorseful – he's a very sympathetic horseman, as we all know, and he came across in that manner, and with remorse, at the hearing.
"I think a caution is a sufficient deterrent because I think the next time somebody comes in the circumstances may be different – every case is looked at on its merits – and the stewards/referrals committee have complete discretion as to what penalty should be issued.
"The penalty they impose will always fit the crime, in their view, and we had a very experienced committee in there this morning and their view was that a caution was an appropriate penalty."
Egan conceded the incident could have been dealt with quicker, but added: "We had a number of things to do before we actually dealt with the case.
"The video was obviously the key piece of evidence, but we also spoke to the trainer of the horse, Roger McGrath, who confirmed there were absolutely no ill-effects on the mare, as well as Davy.
'Learned his lesson'
"I do appreciate the vacuum gave an opportunity for the problem to get bigger and bigger, but hopefully it's been dealt with fairly. The most important thing is that Davy has learned his lesson and I don't think he will do anything similar again."
Egan said that, during a 25 minute hearing, Russell had given "very fair evidence". "He set out what had happened on the way down to the hurdle, which was that he felt his horse was not paying attention," he said.
"He said if he'd have his life to live over again he'd have let the horse jump the hurdle and deal with the consequences of that.
"He said he couldn't use his whip because that would also have been a breach of the rules, so to get the horse to concentrate he did what he did, which was strike the horse on the soft part just behind the head with his fist – and he actually had his whip in his hand when he did that.
"He accepted he was totally wrong and was very remorseful for what he did. I have absolutely no doubt he won't do it again."
Speaking to At The Races on Saturday afternoon, Russell said: "It's a relief it's over and done with and I and my family can move on. It was an unfortunate incident that maybe got misinterpreted by the general public and that's the way the stewards felt today. It's great to move onwards and upwards now.
"Visually it doesn't look good, but there were a number of things going through my head then: what I could have done, maybe bring the filly back under control, because at that point she was out of control, and I felt if I had to continue in that vein in the race I'd have had a very difficult time trying to control her."
He added: "I felt I needed to do something to let her know there was someone on her back and a slap to the soft of the neck I thought was the appropriate action.
"Obviously we're in a difficult position because there's a line there that you don't need to cross. I felt I hadn't crossed it and that I needed to take some action to get her to pay attention to what she was doing. Otherwise if we don't do that the whole thing runs riot and you'll have horses everywhere."
The panel was made up of Con O'Mahony, Philip McLernon and Michael Doyle.
What they say
I love Davy Russell both as a bloke and a jockey, but escaping a ban for punching a horse makes no sense. Nothing to celebrate here. Mike Cattermole, At The Races presenter
Davy Russell would definitely have got a ban if he'd punched a human being at the racecourse. Hard to believe no ban for punching a horse. Eddie Fremantle, RUK presenter
On my farm there’s a stream that used to be filled with ducks. But there aren’t ducks any more because of the buzzards, which we’re not allowed to control. It’s a lot of nonsense and so is this. Wait until these people have been kicked a few times then see if they change their opinion on giving a horse a tap because it’s being stupid. Mick Easterby, trainer
I haven’t seen the incident so I can’t really comment on it. What I can say is that if I saw a member of my staff striking a horse there would be severe ramifications as it’s unacceptable. John Best, trainer
A 14-day ban for insulting one of their stewards, no ban for striking a horse. Nothing short of a complete judicial travesty. Richard Farquhar, racegoer
There’s no excuse for it and it’s a disgrace that he’s not had a ban or anything. He’s got to have a ban, hasn’t he? It’s not a good image for racing. Stephen Wallis, York racegoer
He’s the professional and the one involved with horses, so he knows what he’s doing. He says he’s sorry and he won’t do it again, so fair play to him. Darren Vernon, York raceegoer