A day in the life of a Stipendiary Steward – Wetherby – 28th October 2016
Anna-Louise Powell, stipendiary steward for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), blogs about the work that goes in behind the scenes at a racecourse as the stipendiary stewards prepare for a day of racing.
Anna-Louise is one of a team of 17 stipendiary stewards who officiate at racecourses up and down the country.
With the jumps season just getting into the swing of things and 62 runners throughout the day this was the first day of the Bet365 meeting at Wetherby with the highlight being the Charlie Hall Chase on Saturday, and an air of excitement surrounds the racecourse for the much awaited return of Cue Card.
The role of a stipendiary steward on the racecourse is to ensure that the rules of racing are adhered to and enforced throughout the day. With such a wide array of rules this can be quite a big job on occasions! There are generally two stipendiary stewards at each meeting, although there are often three for the premier meetings. There are also usually two racecourse stewards in attendance, a chairperson and a ‘winger’ who form two out of three people on a panel for stewards’ enquiries. Also present in the steward’s room is a steward’s secretary whose role is to provide the administrative function for the steward’s room, producing reports for the BHA website amongst other things.
We aim to arrive on course around 2 ½ – 3 hours before the first race. This gives us a chance to go through the card, including non-runners, form, any previous notes that we have on the horses running, the betting and any market movers. The stipendiary stewards will discuss any issues that are likely to come to the fore throughout the day so that they are then able to liaise with the racecourse stewards about the plan for the day at the raceday team briefing, held an hour and ten minutes prior to the first race. Being on track early also allows us to be present if yard staff, riders or trainers need to talk to us regarding obtaining any privileges such as going to the start early or wearing a hood during the preliminaries.
Having a raceday team briefing seventy minutes before the first race allows the clerk of the scales, starters, judge, veterinary officer (VO), equine welfare and integrity officers (EWIOs), and stewarding team to get together before racing and discuss any potential issues. The veterinary officer might tell us of any welfare issues or problems with passports, for example vaccination errors, which will then be passed over to the stewards who will discuss the further action to be taken. Starters will inform us of any horses that have been previously reported for being difficult at the start so that everybody is prepared and the clerk of the scales will inform the team of any non-runners, jockey changes or colour changes. We then have around an hour before the first race to deal with anything that has come up early in the day.
Prior to racing we also make contact with the Integrity Team within the BHA to discuss any integrity issues that may be relevant to the days racing and also to discuss any significant market movers so far. They are also on hand throughout the day and watch the racing from London to ensure that there are no integrity concerns. Occasionally we may have to act on concerns that they have throughout the day.
When racing begins, we will always endeavour to be in the parade ring to see the horses and check that all horses and riders are on time both entering and leaving the parade ring to ensure that races run punctually. Usually one stipendiary and one racecourse steward will watch the race from a side on or head on box, depending on the racecourse, and the other two will watch from the stewards’ room where there are four screens covering all views of the field. We watch the race live and then review the recording a number of times together to ensure that no riding offence took place.
If an enquiry is required we will gather the parties involved, be it trainers, stable staff, jockeys or other officials and convene at the stewards’ room to provide everybody with the chance to give their evidence; an opportunity for all parties involved to provide any further information which might not be apparent from the video footage. The Stipendiary asks the relevant questions, leads the enquiry and advises the rest of the panel on the appropriate course of action whether that is that no further action should be taken, a fine, a suspension or that the matter ought to be forwarded to the head office of the BHA for further consideration by our colleagues there. The panel members will then make a joint decision.
Today at Wetherby was fairly quiet with just one enquiry after the sixth race in which the stewards suspended the winning rider for two days for using his whip above the permitted level. These kind of enquiries are usually fairly uncomplicated and the stewards apply their discretion when looking at the overall picture for this type of offence to agree on the appropriate penalty, including the number of times the whip was used, but also other factors such as whether the horse was given time to respond, the force with which the whip was used, how far apart the uses were, whether the horse was clearly winning, and so on.
We publish notices of every stewards enquiry on the BHA website as soon as possible after the enquiry has taken place. We have worked hard in recent years to increase the quality of these enquiry notices by adding more detail in order that readers get a clear picture of the issues that have taken place, and the reasoning behind any decisions taken.
Throughout the day we also take reports from trainers, their representatives or riders to publish on the BHA website and to be sent back to Weatherbys to inform the public on anything that may have affected a horse’s performance for that particular run; these are not uncommon. We also conduct enquiries to ascertain reasons for any apparent improvement in form of horses that win on a given day having run poorly last time with no obvious reason why. We keep regular contact with other BHA and racecourse officials throughout the day to ensure that all of this relevant information is fed back to the steward’s secretary who inputs all of the data onto a specially designed system so that it is ultimately relayed accurately to the betting public.
The first day of the Charlie Hall meeting was fairly quiet for the Stipendiary Stewards, however, there are some days where we never stop with numerous enquiries, reports and lots of things to catch up on. It is all part of the interesting nature of the job that we do; it is certainly never boring! It is a pleasure going to work at a different track each day where no two days are the same.
At the end of the day when things begin to quieten down we are able to get our heads together as a team to ensure that all loose ends from the day are tied up and everything is reported correctly on the BHA website and all data is recorded accurately to ensure that the betting public, Weatherbys and officials at future meetings are well informed. Then for the often long drive home to focus on and prepare for the next day’s racing!