Alterations made to start positions and race distances at Wetherby Racecourse

13 Nov 2014

Following a site visit at Wetherby racecourse by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) on Monday 10 November, which included remeasuring the Hurdle and Chase courses, it was found that four of the active starts at the course were incorrectly positioned.

As a result the following corrective action has been taken to the start positions and race distances listed below:

  • The 3m 1f Steeple Chase distance was found to be 3m 88yards, 78 yards short of the minimum 3m 166yards required for a Jumps race to be officially classified as “3 miles about one furlong”. The start has now been moved 84 yards backwards so that it retains its official distance description.
  • The 3m 1f Hurdle distance was found to be 38 yards longer than the maximum 3m 1f 55yards permitted for a Jumps race to be officially described as “3 miles about 1 furlong”. The start has therefore been moved forward 125 yards so that it retains its official distance description.
  • The 1m 5f Bumper course will now become 1m 4 1/2f.
  • The 2m 4f Hurdle course will now become 2m 4 1/2f.

These revisions are to take place immediately and will be in place for the fixture on Saturday 15 November 2014. Only the new “2 miles 4 1/2f” Hurdle start will be used this weekend.

In addition, two further starts were found to be incorrectly positioned, though these starts are not active, have had no races run over them in recent years and have no current races programmed.

  • The 3m 4 1/2f Steeple Chase course will now become 3m 4f.
  • The 4m 1f Steeple Chase course will now become 4m 1/2f.

The following report requested from Wetherby, verified by BHA, outlines the background for the course having been found to have been running some races over incorrect distances:

After the initial realignment of Wetherby Racecourse in 2007, arising as a result of the widening of the A1(M), the course was configured with the Hurdle track completely on the inside of the racecourse and the Steeple Chase track on the outside of the racecourse. Unfortunately, due to turf management issues, problems were encountered with the Steeple Chase races staged on the new course layout.

To address these problems the decision was taken in the summer of 2008 to reposition all the Steeple Chase fences in the home straight to the inside of the track so that seven of the nine fences would be positioned on Wetherby’s ‘old’ turf.

This relocation of the fences was a collective decision taken by the Managing Executive and BHA. On 15 September 2008 BHA visited Wetherby to remeasure both the Steeple Chase and Hurdle courses. This resulted in new official starts being introduced. The new starts were used for the first time at the race meeting on Wednesday 15 October 2008.

Later, prior to the race meeting scheduled for 25 November 2009, the racecourse encountered significant issues with localised waterlogging in the vicinity of the winning post. Because of this the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA)’s Northern Safety Officer made a one-off request to both the Managing Executive and BHA for emergency track modifications. The result of this was that the Hurdles course was switched from the inner to the outer bend into the back straight, and the Steeple Chase course route moved from outer to inner in the same area.

As a result of the success of this emergency track modification, the above parties involved in that decision decided to retain the revised track layout for all subsequent race meetings held at Wetherby. This alteration helps to explain why the Steeple Chase course was now operating at shorter than the approved distances and the Hurdle course was, consequently, longer. In line with standard practice, this should have prompted a further remeasuring of the course at the time, but such remeasuring did not take place due to an oversight.

Following the 2014 running of the Charlie Hall Chase meeting, BHA and Wetherby became aware of anomalies regarding race times which prompted the site visit by BHA and remeasuring of the racecourse, which established the discrepancies.

Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for BHA, said:

“It is unacceptable that the Hurdle and Chase courses at Wetherby have for some time been operating over incorrect distances in some instances. Accuracy of information is crucial to both punters and licensed persons and it is for this reason that back in October BHA made it a requirement for the effect of any running rail movements on race distances to be published alongside going reports.

“The result here is that races run over four of the 12 available distances at Wetherby over a five-year period have been incorrect. This is unacceptable. However it is the view of BHA that the scale of the inaccuracy is not sufficient for any retrospective action to be required in terms of the results of any of the races in question.

“Similar to what was done for Flat tracks, a project is underway which has BHA working with the Racecourse Association (RCA) to roll out a revised method of measuring course distances on Jump tracks. This will ensure that measuring methodology for Jump tracks will be brought into line with Flat tracks whereby measurements are taken six feet from the inside rail and all starts are professionally surveyed in to the nearest yard.

“In the case of Wetherby we do not think it is appropriate that any further action should be taken against the racecourse. In considering this position we are cognisant that, while technically under the Rules it is the racecourse’s responsibility to ensure that distances are accurate, BHA were involved in the processes which gave rise to the issues at Wetherby. We acknowledge our responsibility for this, as well as our responsibility to ensure public confidence in this regard.”

Notes to Editors

1. Jumps distances have traditionally been measured along the mid-point of Hurdle/Chase courses (to account for running rail movements throughout a racecourse’s season) and rounded up/down to the nearest half furlong. For instance, any Jumps distance currently wheel-measured at between 2 miles 7 furlongs and 166 yards, and 3 miles and 55 yards is officially described as “About 3 miles”.

2. This remained the methodology in Jump racing because of the frequency of dolling of rails to protect ground, which happens much less frequently in Flat racing.

3. Running rail movements on racecourses, particularly Jumps racecourses, are essential for turf management purposes. They optimise the spread of track wear and tear and promote horse and rider welfare by enabling racing on the best available ground conditions. To safeguard fixtures in periods of inclement weather, localised movements can be necessary at short notice on the raceday itself. The sport’s participants are fully supportive of this vital practice.

4. Rule (B)66 states that a race is liable to be void in the following circumstances. BHA decided not to take action under this Rule for the reasons outlined above.

66.1 A race shall be void where a yellow stop race flag is waved, as described in Rule 48.
66.2 A race may be declared void if no qualified horse covers the course in accordance with these Rules.
66.3 A race is liable to be declared void if:
66.3.1 all the horses in the race ran at the wrong weights;
66.3.2 all the horses ran over the wrong course;
66.3.3 all the horses started from the wrong start, unless the Stewards have exercised their powers under Rule 10.1;
66.3.4 no horses returned to the start after the recall flag was raised (see Rule 39);
66.3.5 the Starter declared a false start but the recall flag was not raised, unless the horses pull up as described in Rule 40.2;
66.3.6 no horse finished;
66.3.7 the Judge or an authorised substitute was not in the Judge’s Box, as required by Rule 60.2.1, unless the Stewards are able to determine the result as described in Rule 60.2.2;
66.3.8 the circumstances described in Rule 10.4 occur.

5. Rule (F)15.3.5 states that a racecourse managing executive has the following duties. BHA decided not to take action under this Rule for the reasons outlined above.

15.3 Subject to Paragraph 15.4, a Racecourse Managing Executive shall be taken to have contravened a requirement imposed on the executive by this Rule in any case where the executive fails to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that…

15.3.5 the course is properly measured and marked.