'We have learned lessons' - changes planned to avoid repeat of Townend fiasco
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has announced steps to avoid a repeat of the information blackout following Paul Townend's 21-day ban at the Punchestown festival after he swerved round the final fence on Al Boum Photo.
A social media storm erupted after the stewards revealed the ban but failed to provide official reasons or convey Townend's explanation for the bizarre manoeuvre – later revealed to be due to his mistaken belief the fence was being bypassed – leaving fans and punters bemused and angry.
IHRB chief executive Denis Egan revealed on Tuesday that a press officer will be appointed to explain stewards’ decisions to press and TV on major racedays, and stipendiary stewards will undergo media training to deal with similar reaction at other meetings.
He said: “We were working on producing more detailed stewards’ reports before the Punchestown incident, but that was the catalyst for moving as quickly as possible and our plans were agreed by the board last week. They will be implemented in the coming months.”
Townend was leading on Al Boum Photo when he pulled out at the last fence in the Growise Champion Novice Chase, taking well-fancied Finian’s Oscar with him. The jockey left the course without speaking to the media and the stewards’ report offered no explanation about his actions.
Fifteen hours and a mountain of social media comment later, Townend issued a statement to the Racing Post saying he thought he heard a shout that the last fence was to be bypassed, and almost immediately the IHRB put out a notice confirming that was the evidence he gave to the racecourse panel.
Egan, who was speaking in Seoul, where he is attending the Asian Racing Conference in his capacity as a member of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities executive council, said: “The situation could have been handled better and we have learned lessons. By having an IHRB representative who can explain to the media what happened in a stewards’ inquiry at one of the major meetings, we hope to prevent this happening again.
“Also, by giving media training to our stipendiary stewards, they will be able to react to similar situations at other meetings.”
Other measures being taken by the IHRB include the creation of a dedicated Twitter account “to transmit information in a more timely manner”, according to Egan, and the appointment of a media relations manager to replace Cliff Noone, who retired recently, on a permanent basis.
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