The following lays out the Disciplinary Panel’s written reasons regarding their findings from an enquiry involving jockey Tom O’Brien held on Thursday 28 April.
1. The Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) on 28 April 2016 held an enquiry to establish whether or not Tom O’Brien, the rider of SABROCLAIR (FR), placed fourth, had committed a breach of Rule (D)44.4 of the Rules of Racing in that he had attempted to line up for the start before being instructed by the starter to do so in the Otter Brewery 25 Years Handicap Steeple Chase at Exeter on 21 April 2016. The matter was referred to the BHA Head Office by the Exeter Stewards following an enquiry on the same day because this was Mr O’Brien’s fourth such offence within the last 12 months.
2. The BHA’s case was presented by Lyn Williams and Mr O’Brien was represented by Rory Mac Neice who was accompanied by Paul Struthers, Chief Executive, Professional Jockeys Association. The Starter on the day Simon McNeill was present and Brant Dunshea, Head of Raceday Operations, was observing. The Panel also viewed recordings of the start.
3. The Panel heard evidence from Mr Williams on behalf of the BHA that the runners having had their girths checked by the Starter and his assistant had been instructed to move onto the track. Two of the horses were slower in reaching the track. The ten runners completed one circle before moving forward towards the tape. The starter had not raised his flag before the horses had started moving towards the tape. After about 6 seconds Mr McNeill, having still not raised his flag, told the jockeys to take another turn. The jockeys then took a turn and a successful holding start was made. The Panel heard evidence from Mr McNeill who stated that he had not called the horses into line or raised his flag because the 2 stragglers were initially facing in the wrong direction. He had therefore reported all the jockeys, including Mr O’Brien, to the stewards on the day as it is stated in Schedule (B)5 titled ‘Starting Procedures’ that jockeys should not form a line or move to the tape until the starter has raised his flag.
4. Mr Mac Niece on behalf of Mr O’Brien questioned Mr McNeill about whether he was on the starter’s rostrum when the horses moved onto the track. It was clear from the recordings of the start that he was not on his rostrum at that time and Mr McNeill agreed that was the case. Mr Mac Niece then showed recordings of earlier races, 1 started by Mr McNeill and 2 started by Mr Jordan, the other starter on duty. In each case the runners made 1 circle and then moved towards the starting tape. Mr Mac Niece suggested in the 6th Race that jockeys were following an identical procedure to that followed in the earlier races. In the 4th race, started by Mr McNeill, he had not been on the rostrum when the horses had moved on the track, whereas in the races started by Mr Jordan, he had been on the rostrum when the horses got on the track.
5. Mr Mac Niece asked Mr McNeill whether it was preferable for him to be on the rostrum when the runners reached the track. Mr McNeill said he normally was on the rostrum but on some tracks that was not the case. Mr Mac Niece drew the Panel’s attention to Schedule (B)5 which states that ‘When all the horses are girthed up and the starter has mounted his rostrum, the horses will enter the course’. Mr Mac Niece concluded that therefore the starter had not complied with Schedule (B)5 as he had not been on the rostrum when the horses entered the course and therefore Mr McNeil contravened the Starting Procedures. He also stated that as Mr McNeill had not been on the rostrum when the horses moved onto the track he did not have full control of the starting procedure.
6. The Panel heard from Mr O’Brien who agreed the runners had walked towards the tape before the flag had been raised but he suggested that he was following a similar procedure as earlier races. Mr O’Brien acknowledged that 2 hoses had arrived on the track later than the other runners and that the starter had the best view to ensure a fair start. He also said that no horses had charged the tape and all jockeys had taken a turn as the starter had requested.
7. The Panel concluded that all jockeys including Mr O’Brien had formed a line before the starter had raised his flag in contravention of Rule (D)44.4. In coming to this conclusion the Panel disagreed with Mr Mac Niece that the jockeys were following the same procedure as in earlier races. In each of the earlier races having circled, the starter’s flag had been raised before the horses had started moving towards the tapes. The Panel also noted that Mr McNeill had not been on the rostrum before the horses reached the course in contravention of Schedule (B)5, but decided that this did not explain or exonerate the jockeys subsequent decision to move towards the tape without the starter raising his flag. The Panel noted the contravention by Mr McNeill but did not think on the evidence shown that it gave any reason for Mr O’Brien and the jockeys to breach the Rules.
8. The Panel found Mr O’Brien guilty of a breach of Rule (D)44.4 and suspended him for 4 days from Friday 6 May to Monday 9 May 2016 inclusive.
Notes to Editors:
1. The Panel for the enquiry was: William Barlow (Chair), Celina Carter, Edward Dorrell