Donn's Articles » Interference rules

Interference rules

Rule 214 (i) (b): (When interference has been caused) by careless or improper riding or by accident in any part of a race the horse shall, on an objection under Rule 262 (iv) which under Rule 264 includes a Stewards Enquiry, be placed behind the horse or horses with which it has interfered if the Stewards are satisfied that the interference improved its placing in relation to the horse or horses with which it interfered.  If they are not so satisfied they shall overrule the objection and/or order that the placings shall remain unaltered.

Rules are important.  They provide the structures, the parameters within which activity takes place.

Rules in sport are simple at a high level.  Score more than the other team.  Go faster than your rivals.  Play the course in fewer shots.

Horse racing’s rules are similarly straightforward at a high level.  Get from the start to the finish before the other horses.  Complete the course.  Jump all the fences or hurdles.  It’s all very simple.  And there is the detail.  Racing’s rules are there to provide a basis for fair competition, and to keep its human and equine competitors as safe as possible.

There are nuances though, like the rules on interference.  If you interfere with another horse, and if you improve your placing relative to that horse as a consequence, then you will be placed behind that horse.  Also straightforward, and sensible, and correct.

The difficulty lies in the interpretation.  We have been here before on many occasions in the past.  Like five years ago, in the 2015 Great Voltigeur Stakes, when Storm The Stars carried Bondi Beach across to the far side of the track, got home by a half a length and was allowed to keep the race.  Like four years ago, in a novices’ chase at Sandown in December 2016, when Pilgrims Bay carried Antartica De Thaix across to the near side, got home by a head and kept the race.

And many, many times in between.

One significant addendum to the Pilgrims Bay race is that the head of stewarding said on Racing TV afterwards that, if you gave the benefit of the doubt to the sufferer, there would be different outcomes to stewards’ enquiries.  But that, “at the moment”, they give the benefit of doubt to the interferer.  That people understand that.

Five years on, and the benefit of the doubt is still going to the interferer.

Importantly, if the benefit of the doubt is going to go to the interferer, not the sufferer of the interference, then the incentive to ride a race that will minimise the chance of causing interference is reduced.

Not that jockeys go out with the express objective of causing interference.  Of course they don’t.  But they are professions sportspeople, highly competitive souls.  Their objective is to win.  And if they need to ride to the edge of the rules in order to do so, that’s what they will do.  They wouldn’t be doing their job properly if they didn’t. 

The rules determine the actions, not the other way around.  These days, in the majority of major racing nations, the rules encourage you to get to the winning line first and, if needs be, take your chances in the stewards’ room, where you know that the benefit of the doubt is going to be on your side.

The primary objective is to keep horses and riders as safe as you can keep them, and there has been much written of late, instigated by Kevin Blake of At The Races and also by Lee Mottershead, Peter Scargill and Lewis Porteous of the Racing Post, about the improvement of safety through more stringent penalties for jockeys.  That’s one way to do it.  Another is through a subtle change in the interpretation of the rules on interference.  At the moment, the benefit of doubt goes to the horse who causes interference.  If the benefit of the doubt went to the horse who suffered the interference, then it is probable that there would be fewer instances of interference taking place.

And the winning margin seems to be more important than it should be.  If a horse has its momentum checked, its chance of winning the race quashed, then it shouldn’t really matter if it has been beaten by a nose or by two and a half lengths. 

In the 10-furlong handicap at Sandown on Sunday, Andaleep, who passed the post first, was disqualified and placed second behind Mephisto, who was a nose behind him at the line.  It was the correct decision.  Andaleep squeezed up Mephisto inside the final furlong.  If the winning margin is small, you have a small chance.  A nose, a short head even.  That’s the precedent.  Reve De Vol also got a Fairyhouse maiden in the stewards’ room last month having passed the post a short head behind Ontario.  

In one sense, all that is required is a subtle change: give the benefit of the doubt to the sufferer, the victim, not to the interferer.  That makes sense anyway from the point of view of what is right.  In another sense though, it is a significant change.  It will not happen on its own accord.  Stewards follow precedent, the interpretation of the rules that has gone before and, as things stand, precedent dictates that the benefit of the doubt goes to the perpetrator.

It needs a line in the sand, and a directive from the authorities.  Don’t throw out every winner who brushes against another horse on the way to the winning line.  That’s not the solution either.  But give the benefit of the doubt to the victim.  Simply place the burden of proof on the interferer. 

You cannot be 100% certain about these things, you are dealing with incomplete information.  Nobody knows for sure, after interference has occurred, what would have happened if that interference had not occurred.  How much would the sufferer have found had its momentum not been checked?  How much would the interferer have found if the sufferer had got closer?

It’s about likelihood, probability.  How certain do the stewards have to be?  90-10?  60-40?  What if it’s 50-50?  Who gets the race then?  At the moment, the interferer keeps the race.  It should be the other way around.

As things stand, the burden of proof is on the victim.  It should be on the perpetrator.  The rule is there.  It’s just the interpretation of it that needs to be tweaked.

© The Irish Field, 5th August 2020