Result of an appeal (S Manana) heard by the Disciplinary Panel on Friday 29 May, and a finding regarding penalty (Richie McGrath)
1. On Thursday 29 May 2015, the Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) heard an appeal against the decision of the Stewards at Newmarket on 14 May 2015 to reverse the placings of the first and second home in the Chassis Cab DAF Handicap. They demoted URBAN CASTLE (USA), ridden by Silvestre de Sousa to second place, and in consequence promoted EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE), ridden by Jamie Spencer, to first place. They found that accidental interference had occurred shortly before the finish, that this had caused a loss of momentum for EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE), who was beaten by just a nose at the line.
2. As always, the Disciplinary Panel approached this appeal as a re-hearing. The appeal was presented by URBAN CASTLE (USA)’s trainer, James Tate, on behalf of the owner Mr Saeed Manana. Tate argued the appeal both attractively and ably. The BHA’s position was represented by Lyn Williams.
3. In the race, which was a 12 furlong Class 4 handicap, the first relevant incident occurred at the one furlong marker. The favourite LUNASEA (IRE), ridden by Adam Kirby, was in the lead. Kirby asked his colt for an effort, but it ducked left and bumped EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE), which was beginning to challenge and nearly level with LUNASEA (IRE). This bump knocked EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) left, and caused him to interfere in turn with URBAN CASTLE (USA). At this point, URBAN CASTLE (USA) was just under half a length down on EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE). Despite this incident, EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) moved quickly ahead of Kirby’s mount, but within a few strides was caught and headed by URBAN CASTLE (USA). De Sousa’s filly was a head up on EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) with 180 yards to run. At this stage, Spencer’s mount began to rally. He pulled his whip through into his right hand, and used it four times while gradually wearing down URBAN CASTLE (USA). Though there was daylight between EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) and URBAN CASTLE (USA) in the initial stages of their duel from 180 yards out, they gradually came together and brushed against each other. Spencer continued to use his whip in his right hand, but de Sousa, who also had his whip in his right hand, gave URBAN CASTLE (USA) a couple of slaps on the shoulder. About five strides before the line, the two horses made more serious contact with each other. Both jockeys continued riding, and at the line there was the minimum margin of a nose between them. The official photograph shows that this was, if anything, a “short” nose – as Spencer said in evidence to the Panel, “there was only a pixel in it”.
4. At the Panel hearing, as before the Newmarket Stewards, Spencer and de Sousa both maintained that they had kept to a straight line in running, and that the incident five strides before the finishing line was caused by the actions of the other’s horse.
5. But before analysing what happened in the closing strides of the race, it was necessary for the Panel to confront an argument raised by Tate concerning the incident at the one furlong marker. He pointed out that not merely was URBAN CASTLE (USA) bumped by EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) as a result of LUNASEA (IRE)’s duck to the left, but that URBAN CASTLE (USA) was struck on the top of her head by Spencer’s whip (which was at that stage of the race in his left hand). He argued that both this incident and the bump received by URBAN CASTLE (USA) should be brought into the analysis. The BHA, on the other hand, said that these should be left out of account because both the bump and the hit with the whip were caused by LUNASEA (IRE) and not by EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE). It was submitted that this could only have been relevant as a challenge to LUNASEA (IRE)’s placing, which was obviously immaterial because LUNASEA (IRE) finished fifth, behind the two horses with which it interfered.
6. This involved a consideration of Rule (B)55, and of that Rule’s effect on Rule (B)54.5.1. Given the view which the Panel eventually came to on the facts, it was not necessary to resolve the difficult questions raised by the wording.
7. The Panel was entirely persuaded that Spencer’s strike with his whip on the top of URBAN CASTLE (USA)’s head was an accident, which came about because of the knock by LUNASEA (IRE). He was raising his whip in his left hand to give encouragement to his mount at the moment he was bumped by LUNASEA (IRE). He was just beginning his downward stroke with the whip when he was knocked into URBAN CASTLE (USA), hence hitting that filly between the ears, though without any serious force. Remarkably perhaps, the filly did not show any ill-effects from this. The hit was not on her nose. She did not flinch. She continued, apparently unhindered, with her run from half a length down on EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) to be a head up within 40 yards or so. It was revealing that de Sousa did not mention the hit with the whip at the Newmarket inquiry. As for the effect of the bump, that was bound to have cost her some momentum. But EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) also suffered a loss of some momentum from the bump by LUNASEA (IRE) and from the contact with URBAN CASTLE (USA). The Panel’s eventual conclusion about this incident was that EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) and URBAN CASTLE (USA) suffered equally, though neither suffered much.
8. That left for analysis the incident which occurred just before the finish. Tate deployed the Racing UK footage which showed with dotted lines the tracks followed by the two horses. He argued that this demonstrated that EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) was the horse which veered off a straight line and caused interference to URBAN CASTLE (USA). The Panel did not agree. The horses raced with daylight between them until the final half furlong, when they both came in and raced in touch with each other. Again, Tate argued that there were in fact three bumps received by URBAN CASTLE (USA) in that last half furlong. But the Panel saw just the one when the horses were running neck and neck only five strides from the line. De Sousa had not mentioned these earlier bumps before the Newmarket Stewards. While Tate cautioned that English was not the jockey’s first language, de Sousa is perfectly capable of expressing himself well and clearly in English. The Panel concluded that the earlier contact in the last half furlong was no more than the horses brushing against each other. EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) was keeping to a straight line, and URBAN CASTLE (USA) was offering to lean in on him. It was significant that de Sousa was seeking to keep URBAN CASTLE (USA) to a straight line with his left hand on the reins and by using his whip in his right hand, which was off the rein, to give her a couple of slaps down the shoulder. These actions were therefore, in the Panel’s view, attempts to exert control over URBAN CASTLE (USA)’s tendency to lean in rather than attempts to encourage her.
9. The critical bump just before the finish received different interpretations. Spencer, supported by the BHA, said that URBAN CASTLE (USA) moved suddenly in on him, and caused EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE) to become unbalanced. Tate and de Sousa argued that URBAN CASTLE (USA) was bumped by EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE)’s hind quarters and that this was the cause of the filly’s movement into the left shoulder of EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE). Having studied all the available recordings extensively, the Panel decided that the initial bump came from URBAN CASTLE (USA)’s sudden movement in on EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE)’s left shoulder. This caused EXCELLENT PUCK (IRE)’s hind quarters to swing out to his left, unbalancing him.
10. It was evident that this incident of accidental interference must have caused some loss of momentum to Spencer’s mount, even though he did not have to stop riding. The Panel was satisfied that the incident improved URBAN CASTLE (USA)’s placing at the winning post just a few yards later. This was not, therefore, a case where Guiding Principle c) – which gives the benefit of the doubt to the first horse home – could operate. On the contrary, Guiding Principle d) was decisive in the Panel’s mind – “interference is likely to have impeded the sufferer to some degree and therefore a reversal of placings is more likely to follow where there is only a nose between the horses”.
11. Accordingly, the Panel dismissed this appeal against the decision of the Newmarket Stewards (who reached their decision in a small fraction of the time taken by the Panel to wrestle with the issues in the appeal). The placings in the race remain as corrected by the Newmarket Stewards.
12. The appeal raised difficult issues and was, as the Panel said when announcing the decision, a tight call. This was clearly a case where it was appropriate to return the deposit, and the Panel so orders.
The Disciplinary Panel has already provided reasons for its decision that Richie McGrath was in breach of Rule (B)58 of the Rules of Racing in respect of his ride of RUMBLE OF THUNDER (IRE) at Fakenham on 1 January 2011.
This breach was characterised as a “Case 1” breach as described in Rule (B)59.2, which amounted to schooling in public. Having given to the parties a preliminary indication of its approach to penalty in the circumstances of this case, and having received the BHA’s notification that it was not contending for any suspension or fine, the Panel decided not to impose any penalty.
This sort of breach, occurring so long ago, was not the focus of the inquiry which led to a general acquittal for McGrath. It was not appropriate to subject him to a suspension (usual in schooling cases) in all the circumstances.
Notes to Editors:
1. The Panel for the appeal hearing was: Tim Charlton (Chair), Hopper Cavendish, William Barlow.