The following represents the full findings and reasons of the Disciplinary Panel of BHA regarding the start of the 2014 Crabbie’s Grand National:
1. On 11 June 2014, the Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) held an inquiry into the allegation that 39 of the 40 jockeys engaged in the Crabbie’s Grand National on Saturday 5 April 2014 were in breach of Rule (D)44.4 of the Rules of Racing. The Rule provides that a rider “shall not engage in any misconduct at the start”. Examples of misconduct are then given in Rule (D)40.5. They include “attempting to line up or taking a position for the start before being instructed to do so by the Starter”, as well as failing to comply with the Starting Procedures set out in Schedule (B)5 Part 3, where there are detailed stipulations about how starts are to be conducted.
2. The jockeys who faced this allegation are identified in the annex to these Reasons. The only jockey in the race who was not the subject of proceedings was Brendan Powell, the rider of the gelding BATTLE GROUP, which refused to race.
3. The inquiry was concerned only with the first occasion on which horses and riders approached the starting tape. They were then ordered to stop to prevent the race going off before the official time. There was a false start shortly afterwards, when the tape failed to operate correctly: no jockey was in any way to blame for this. Likewise, there was no issue about the non-attendance by the jockeys at a reconvened Stewards Enquiry at Aintree. The BHA made no case that there was any breach of the Rules in relation to this.
4. The jockeys presented a united front in denying the charge of misconduct: they all said they had taken positions and began to line up for the race because they had received a “goggles warning” from the Starters which, they said, was the regular instruction they get to prepare to start. Their case was presented by Graeme McPherson QC, instructed by Rory Mac Neice (for the English licensed jockeys) and by Andrew Coonan (for the Irish licensed jockeys). The BHA’s case was presented by Louis Weston. He called three of the five Starters on duty for the Grand National, and there were written statements from all of them before the Panel. In response, the jockeys put in a composite written statement from five of them (Sam Twiston-Davies, Tom Scudamore, Tom O’Brien, Aidan Coleman and Brian Hughes). Three of them gave oral evidence at the hearing. The Panel also had the benefit of seeing all the integrity recordings of events at the start as well as the Channel 4 coverage.
5. The Panel’s factual conclusions, having considered all the material put before it, can be stated briefly: there was little or no dispute about the bare facts.
(i) The field reached the start well in advance of the race time. All were there about two minutes before the off. The field was circling and being attended to as necessary for girthing up, and they were generally 60-80 yards behind the starting tape.
(ii) One of the assistant Starters, Simon McNeill, went to the front of the field about one minute before the start time, leaving the other three assistants to deal with any further girthing up that was needed. At this stage, the Starter, Hugh Barclay, was on the rostrum.
(iii) As Mr McNeill was beginning to walk from the front of the field to the inside rail (from which he was intending to give the 30 second goggle warning, by prior agreement with Mr Barclay), he was asked by one jockey “how long have we got?” He answered “about half a minute”, having checked his watch.
(iv) This caused one or two of the jockeys to stop circling (as practically all were continuing to do at this point, that is about 30 seconds before the official start time) and to begin to line up and move towards the tape.
(v) The rest of the field took their cue from these early movers, positioned themselves and began to walk forward. This was at about 16.14.35 (i.e. 25 seconds before the race time).
(vi) Within a few seconds, Mr McNeill began to shout from his position at the front of the field that it was too early. He also sought to stop the onward march of the horses coming towards him by trying to restrain one of them (probably TEAFORTHREE (IRE)). He held onto its reins, but was then pulled off his feet and fell. He was not injured.
(vii) At 16.14.48 (12 seconds before the race time), Mr Barclay instructed the riders that “it’s not time” which he repeated more than once. He was connected by microphone to an enhanced loudspeaker system, and these calls were heard clearly by all.
(viii) All the riders responded to this, stopped short of the starting tape and took a turn. Thereafter, there was a false start followed eventually by an effective start. This inquiry was not concerned with those events.
(ix) The Starter reported all the jockeys for misconduct at the start.
6. It was clear and undisputed that the Starter Mr Barclay never spoke the words “sort yourselves out and walk up quietly”, or some equivalent phrase. Schedule (B)5 stipulates that jockeys should not walk in or take up positions before this is said. On the face of it, therefore, a breach of the Rules occurred.
7. The jockeys’ defence was that a number of Starters did not follow that procedure at all regularly. They said that it was commonplace for Starters to let the jockeys take their positions and begin to walk in after they had been given the 30 seconds goggles warning. Indeed, one of the jockeys, Tom Scudamore said that “in the vast majority of cases we get a goggle shout and that’s it.” He explained that the “sort yourselves out and walk up quietly” instruction was only given in rare cases when one or more riders might not appear ready to the starter. Mr Barclay and Mr McNeill (who frequently acts as a Starter though he was an assistant on Grand National day) both said that they “sometimes” allowed races to start in this way. Another of the assistant Starters that day, Mr William Jordan, who also regularly acts as a Starter, gave evidence that his standard procedure was to follow the steps set out in Schedule (B)5 more closely and that he always used the “sort yourselves out and walk up quietly” formula.
8. Thus the Panel concluded that a “goggles shout” has been used by some Starters at least as the effective signal for jockeys to prepare to race. It was not possible to reach a reliable view about how frequently that practice has been followed and therefore whether it had become an equivalent of the “sort yourselves out and walk up quietly” formula. Wherever the truth of that may lie, the simple fact is that there was no “goggles shout” in this case. Mr McNeill was merely asked how long to go by one rider (probably Richie McLernon), to which he answered “about half a minute”. This was not intended or understood to be a “goggles shout”. It was not heard by many of the riders. Only Brian Hughes of those who gave evidence to the Panel heard it, and he did not say it was a “goggles shout”. Thereafter, the majority of riders simply followed the lead of the few who were first to begin to take positions and walk in.
9. Thus the Panel decided that the 39 jockeys were in breach of Rule (D)44.4 as alleged.
10. The Guide to Procedures and Penalties gives an entry point penalty of one day’s suspension with a range of 1-5 days for the type of breach which occurred here.
11. It was the BHA’s contention that the Panel should have in mind an aggravating feature of these events, which was that Mr McNeill was pulled to the ground when trying to prevent the early approach to the tape.
12. On behalf of the jockeys, it was said that it was unnecessary to impose any penalty at all, because potential confusion arose from the use of a different formula than is specified in Schedule (B)5 – i.e. a goggle shout rather than the “sort yourselves out and walk up quietly” instruction.
13. The Panel decided to give a caution to each of the 39 jockeys. It determined that there was real fault on their part: they took positions and walked up without either a “goggles shout” or a “sort yourselves out etc” instruction having been given. The treatment of Mr McNeill was objectionable, but it was not an event which is attributable to 38 of the 39 jockeys. The Panel was not asked by either side to take different steps against different riders.
14. Despite that fault, the Panel decided against imposing suspensions for this reason. The starter, Mr Barclay, explained that he did not immediately tell the jockeys to back away and take another turn when he saw them walking up. He hoped (for about 10 seconds after he saw they were walking up) that they might reach the race time before getting to the tape. When he realised that they would reach the tape too early, he instructed them to back away. This was just 12 seconds before the race time and they all did in the next few seconds. If they had walked up a little more slowly, then he would have been able to start the race and there would have been “a lovely start” he thought, (assuming the tape functioned properly). Given that, the Panel did not feel that the jockeys’ misconduct warranted suspensions.
15. For completeness, the Panel records that it was no part of the function of this inquiry to conduct a review of Starting Procedures and their operation: that rests with others. However, it is worth recording that it is not intended to pillory those Starters who may not always follow the two-stage procedure of a “goggles shout” and then, at an appropriate time, an instruction to “sort yourselves out and walk up”. The Panel recognised that the use of the “goggles shout” as the trigger for preparing to start is perhaps born out of the trust that Starters have in National Hunt jockeys, which is reciprocated in the trust and respect for the Starters that the jockeys have. That mutual regard was apparent from the evidence that the Panel heard from the starters and jockeys and its value is real. But everybody (i.e. starters and jockeys) should recognise that there is a real purpose to the two-stage procedure. If it is always applied, the Starter has a more efficient control of the starting time of races: it is preferable that the field should not begin to walk up until it is clear that the race will start on or after the official time. That seems to this Panel to be more sensible than seeking to control a potential early start by instructing riders who are walking in to take a turn.
16. The Panel records also its understanding that the importance of avoiding a premature start is not directly a regulatory one – it is for the working of the betting industry. The amount of betting turnover which would have been lost by a start of the Grand National even ten seconds early would have been substantial. Fortunately, the days when a race went off early and was declared void with the result that bookmakers did not pay out are now well in the past.
Notes to Editors:
1. The Panel for the hearing was: Timothy Charlton QC (Chair), Didi Powles and Roger Bellamy
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British Horseracing Authority