The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today announced that it has concluded its internal investigation into the course of events surrounding the Gigaset International Stakes at Ascot on 25 July, and published the findings.
The investigation was carried out by BHA Independent Regulatory Director Andrew Merriam, and reported into Chief Executive Nick Rust. Interviews were conducted with those BHA officials involved on the day, BHA Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation Jamie Stier, who was also present on the day, and two of the raceday Stewards, Hopper Cavendish and Christopher Rathcreedan.
The investigation has identified procedural failings in three principal areas and disciplinary action has been taken where appropriate.
Nick Rust, Chief Executive of the BHA, said:
“This was clearly a regrettable episode, and on what was a high-profile raceday, the BHA was not seen to best effect. Our investigation has established what was, in effect, a number of errors on the day, several of them sadly not excused by the fact that they were well-intentioned and seeking to improve or rectify the situation, but actually compounded the original errors.
“We must and will learn lessons from this episode, and implement the recommendations of the investigation. This includes appropriate formal disciplinary action being taken against those responsible, which the BHA has already acted upon.
“I would like to once again apologise to off-course betting operators and on-course bookmakers and their customers for the inconvenience and cost caused by the confusion which subsequently arose after the premature announcement of the ‘Weighed-In’ signal.”
Findings of internal investigation relating to Speculative Bid incident
The investigation has a number of findings and recommendations, which are summarised in the following report, and all of which are being acted upon by the BHA.
The procedural findings fall into three principal areas, namely the start of the race itself, the events surrounding the first Stewards’ Enquiry, and what happened subsequently. In addition the Rule itself has been considered, as well as the question of compensation to bookmakers.
With regard to the race itself, the well-backed favourite Speculative Bid had his head wedged over the neighbouring stall at the moment the race was started, with the horse’s jockey Jamie Spencer standing above him in the stalls structure. Subsequently, the horse was freed in quick order following expert work by the stalls handlers, and galloped down the course riderless.
The first finding of the investigation is that the race should not have been started when Jamie Spencer and Speculative Bid were not ready. These are split-second decisions where the starter needs to consider the needs of the connections of all runners, to consider horse welfare and to try to ensure a fair start. Mistakes can sometimes occur, and the conclusion of the investigation is that this was a human error rather than a failure of procedure. Accordingly, no formal disciplinary action has been taken with the starter involved.
However, to ensure the best experience is deployed on major racedays a the investigation recommends that, in line with existing recommendations to deploy senior Raceday staff across all disciplines on the major days, the senior Starter on duty should start all races on any day Group 1 or Grade 1 are staged, and this will be implemented by the BHA.
The events surrounding the first enquiry
In the immediate aftermath of the race it was identified that, correctly, a Stewards’ Enquiry needed to be held under Rule (B) 10.5.2, as Speculative Bid may have needed to be retrospectively withdrawn to protect punters and bookmakers. However, this Stewards’ Enquiry should have been announced accompanied by the traditional klaxon being sounded to inform racegoers and bookmakers that all betting slips should be retained.
Instead, however, the Stewards’ Enquiry was announced without being accompanied by such an alert, or an announcement that the public should hold all betting slips. In contrast, the announcement stated that the places were not affected.
The investigation has established that further to the incomplete announcement of the first Stewards’ Enquiry, the situation was compounded by a breakdown in communication between the raceday officials, to the effect that the officials gave the signal that the Weighed-In announcement should be made.
It has been established that there was a failure to carry out the established protocol in communicating the Stewards Enquiry on the part of one of the BHA’s raceday officials, against whom the BHA has taken formal disciplinary action.
What happened subsequently
The Stewards’ Enquiry was concluded, and found that Speculative Bid was deemed to have been denied a fair start.
A racecourse announcement was then made stating Speculative Bid had been withdrawn by the Stewards and deemed a non-runner. This cannot have been the case for betting purposes, because the Weighed-In had been announced, and any subsequent decision by the Stewards cannot affect the official result declared at the Weighed-In signal, and so this announcement caused confusion.
Tattersalls’ Committee’s Rule 7 is explicit that upon the Weighed-In announcement being made under the BHA’s Rules of Racing, “bets will be settled on the horses as announced. Changes to the result made after the Weighed-In announcement do not affect the result of the race for betting purposes”.
The course of events having occurred whereby the Weighed-In announcement was made meant that the efforts on the part of a number of BHA officials to ‘retrieve’ the situation were in effect futile. Indeed, they served only to confuse matters further, for those present on the day, in particular on-course bookmakers and bettors, as well as the off-course betting industry.
These steps included an initial effort to have the Weighed-In announcement overturned, on the mistaken understanding that the initial Stewards Enquiry had been announced accompanied by the usual klaxon, which it had not.
In addition there was a further announcement broadcast later in the afternoon which stated that “following previous announcements concerning race four, for betting purposes Speculative Bid is deemed a runner and under Tattersalls’ Rule 4 no deductions shall be applied”. This announcement was drafted in order to assist the Betting Ring Inspector given the confusion and heated atmosphere. While this announcement was indeed correct, by this stage further announcements were creating only further confusion.
For this and aforementioned points, the report recommends that clearer lines of responsibility within the weighing room are to be established to prevent such confusion being possible, with the senior Stipendiary Steward on duty being the principal official on any given raceday. The BHA will act upon this recommendation.
With hindsight, given that the Weighed-In signal had incorrectly been announced before the Stewards Enquiry had concluded, the issues for betting operators and bettors would have been avoided had communication taken place from the Stewards Room with the racecourse announcers, the media, the betting ring inspector and off course bookmakers before the result of the Stewards Enquiry was made public. The communication should have advised of our error in announcing the Weighed-In signal, and reiterating that for betting purposes the result at Weighed-In signal would stand, and could not be overruled.
Rule (B) 10.5.2
The Rule itself is a relatively new one, established to protect betting operators and bettors in the event that a horse is denied a run in particular circumstances. The fact that this was a relatively new (and little-used) Rule certainly contributed to its failure to be delivered effectively.
The BHA will review whether Rule (B) 10.5.2 should remain in place, or is in effect unwieldy to operate even in straightforward circumstances. The Horserace Bettors Forum, set to hold its first meeting next month, will be asked for its views in this area, and in relation to associated on-course announcements.
Compensation to bookmakers
Finally, and separately to the internal investigation, the BHA has received and considered a small number of requests for compensation from on-course bookmakers present at Ascot on the day. Whilst sympathetic to the situation the bookmakers – and bettors – were placed in, both on the financial front and in relation to the confusion that followed, the BHA is clear that there is no legal basis for such claims, and the organisation is unwilling to set what could be a precedent with significant consequences further down the line. Its apology is reiterated again.