'Victory for common sense' as Perth jockeys' bans reduced to two days
Jockeys’ chief Paul Struthers hailed a “victory for common sense” after the three riders banned for ten days for ignoring ‘stop-race’ instructions at Perth this month had their punishment reduced to two days – the minimum penalty available.
In an appeal at BHA headquarters in London, it was ruled that although Sean Quinlan, Derek Fox and Stephen Mulqueen were “technically in breach” for ignoring yellow flags waved to signal a void race – and their appeal was dismissed on that basis – “truly exceptional” circumstances made the original penalty inappropriately harsh.
The panel ruled that the three had very little warning of the decision to void the race, very little opportunity to see the first two flags and not much opportunity to see the third. Rory Mac Neice, representing the jockeys, argued that the first two flagmen – on the turn into the home straight and between the last fence and the finishing line – were so far from the inner chase track as to add nothing to the efforts to stop the race.
It was also claimed the third flagman, who had moved on to the racing surface, was seen very late, even by fourth-placed rider Will Kennedy, who was not involved in the finish.
The three-mile chase on September 11 was first marred by the fatal fall of Johnny Go, who came down at the first fence and had screens erected around him while he was attended to by the vet.
The decision to void the race was made as the field headed down the back straight, to protect the stricken horse and racecourse personnel at the screens placed on the left-hand track where the course divides on the approach to the finish.
Conflicting duties and uncertainties
Quinlan admitted he had seen the final flag after being alerted to it by the shouts of the flagman, that he knew the race was being stopped and that he had not pulled his horse up as the rules require, but he explained that he had been in two minds after that point.
Mac Neice explained that Quinlan’s body language was evidence of his “conflicting duties and uncertainties", and added: "If he gets this wrong and pulls up before the line and it’s not a void race, he’s in a lot of trouble."
Mac Neice also said that if the first two flags were part of the safety procedures, they should have been displayed more prominently, pointing out on ‘scout camera’ pictures of how the second was waved against a background of similarly yellow high-visibility jackets and yellow-tinged trees.
Too little, too late
Tim Naylor, the BHA head of regulation, stressed that the rules were very clear and there were “very important reasons why it is incumbent on jockeys to heed that flag”.
But Mac Neice argued the riders were given only one brief opportunity to make the decision to stop riding, concluding that “stop-race procedures at Perth failed” and that the third flag was “too little, too late” for men riding half a ton of horseflesh at the most concentrated part of the race.
William Norris QC, chair of the panel, explained the test the panel would be applying was “whether [the jockeys] should have seen the flag, had the opportunity to do so and the time to react”.
He concluded: “We thought seriously about a caution and we are extremely well aware of the difficulties you [jockeys] faced . . . but it’s extremely important that we all in racing recognise that the yellow flag rule is crucial and its importance must be marked by a period of suspension and two days is the minimum we can impose. Your deposits will be returned to you.
“We all know here that Perth and other racecourses need to look again at their yellow flag procedures so that everybody is given a real opportunity to stop in good time.”
Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, welcomed the verdict and said: “It’s a serious matter but in the circumstances where they’re given eight seconds between seeing a flag and reacting to it before they get to the winning post, I think two days sends out the right message. It’s a victory for common sense.
“I can see why the panel wouldn’t want to find them not in breach because that might be seen to give carte blanche to ignoring yellow flags completely, but the important thing from our perspective is that racecourses now review their procedures.
“In the past we have put to the BHA the possibility of changing the colour of the flags because of the issue with high-vis vests and they said no, so we’ll raise that with them again and hope they reconsider.
“Looking at Perth’s procedure and where their flagmen were deployed, you do wonder if, had there been a need to bypass fences down the back straight, they’d have been able to do it.
“I think that’s an important thing for the BHA’s inspectorate and the courses to look at, as well as ensuring they follow the general instruction that any course’s specific stop-race procedures – be it one flag, two flags or a flag at every fence – should be displayed. I don’t think they’re displayed at any course.”
Riders must have confidence in procedures to protect safety
COMMENT: Peter Thomas
The decision to dramatically reduce the suspensions handed out to the three jockeys may turn out to be, as PJA chief executive Paul Struthers claims, a victory for common sense, but only if it is seen less as an exoneration and more as a recognition that riders as well as racecourses need to redouble their efforts to ensure the primacy of safety in our sport.
The fact is that although the riders concerned admitted seeing at least one of the stop-race flags, they failed to stop riding a race as the rules rightly dictate and were found guilty of an offence. They may have wavered and wondered but they didn’t stop.
What has to happen is that slipshod and inadequate safety procedures must be addressed and improved upon by racecourses in general, giving jockeys no excuse not to heed them. This must in turn lead to a culture of compliance in the weighing room, whereby uncertainty – and the understandable desire to keep riding to win – is replaced by an instinctive adherence to the rules.
It may currently go against the grain to put down the whip and risk the ire of an owner, a trainer or a punter, which is why the procedures must inspire confidence and prompt an ingrained first reaction towards safety among those professionals who stand to gain most from it.
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