Walsh: don't blame jockeys over the National false starts
Leading amateur rider Katie Walsh believes blame should not be apportioned to riders or officials following the two false starts to the Randox Health Grand National on Saturday.
Aintree stewards referred 31 of the 40 jockeys in the race for approaching the tape before the flag was raised.
The feature event was delayed with runners and riders twice called back after some charged off towards the first fence before the starter was satisfied an orderly line had been formed.
The matter was not dealt with on the day, with stewards instead opting to forward the matter to the BHA’s head office to avoid detracting from the story of the race.
Walsh was also among the 19 amateur riders to be suspended for a day after being deemed to have cantered their mounts in at the start in the 28-runner Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Steeple Chase on Thursday. Jamie Codd and Tom Hamilton picked up two-day suspensions for it being their second offence within 12 months.
She said: “I think there was just crossed wires in the National, more so than anything else. It’s a very tense moment down at the start, there’s a lot of action going on down there and it’s quite a wide space – you can’t sometimes hear what’s going on – but it’s the start of the National after all.
“There’s nobody doing anything wrong, be it riders or officials. Everyone is doing their best and no-one wants for there to be a false start.”
A similar incident occurred in the Topham Chase in 2013, when 25 of the 29 riders were given one-day suspensions with the race having two false starts, but Walsh feels it very much varies from year to year and depends how the runners take to the unique atmosphere.
She said: “I was out the back door for the National line-up this time around but it just depends on what you’re riding and how they handle the occasion down at the start. Some people want you to be up the front row and others are happy for you to sit wherever you’re travelling.
“Some years the race will go off without a glitch and other years it won’t. It is what it is.”
Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys' Association, welcomed the decision to refer the 31 Grand National jockeys to the BHA.
He said: "We agree with the stewards' decision to let BHA head office deal with the matter rather than try and deal with it on the day.
"The BHA will now review the footage and decide who, if anyone, should be charged with breaking the starting procedure rules. Then we can liaise with any such jockeys and decide whether to accept or contest the breach."
BHA chief executive Nick Rust, meanwhile, was pleased to see the secondary standing start work well and praised riders for “their professionalism, skill and conduct” across the three-day meeting in ensuring all 317 runners returned home safely.
'It's a huge challenge'
He said: “Starting 40 horses in the Grand National presents a huge challenge and clearly we would have preferred it to go off first time. On the positive side, after the false start it was pleasing to see the standing start work well.
"The stewards are required to look into the circumstances leading to a false start, but made a wise decision to defer the stewards' inquiry until a different day, rather than holding up jockeys’ travel plans or doing anything to take away from the story of the race.”
Warm weather meant all Grand National riders were asked to dismount and lead the horses to the cooling area after the race and then lead them directly to the stables.
Rust added: "Our new national broadcast partners at ITV deserve great praise in how this was handled. Throughout the day the message was loud and clear – the welfare standards in place in British racing are first class, and the horse truly does come first."