Donn's Articles » Interference rules – again

Interference rules – again

The stewards held an inquiry after the concluding race at Cork on Hilly Way Chase day in early December.  Zaccarela jumped to the front over the second last flight in the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap hurdle, and he led over the last.  Challenged by Feyan on the run-in, he moved to his left under a left-hand drive from Kevin Brouder, and bumped his rival about 75 yards out before passing the post a head in front.

At the stewards’ inquiry, it was decided that the placings of the first two horses home would be reversed.

There was a messy finish to the bumper that concluded proceedings at Downpatrick on 31st August last year.  Walking Fame went clear under Pat Taaffe at the two-furlong marker, but she was inclined to move to her left.  Four lengths clear as they started to climb the hill, the mare wandered in front and she hung to her left across Deo Bellator and I A Connect as they challenged on the near side.

The stewards held an inquiry and announced: no alteration. 

You scratch your head.  The inconsistency.  The fact that, you do one thing today and you lose the race, you do the same thing tomorrow and you keep it.

It’s one thing if the arbiters miss an incident.  Like, in football or in hurling or in rugby or in tennis, if you miss a foul, miss an off-side, miss a line call.  Incorrect decisions can be made.  The problem in that instance, however, is in spotting the incident, not with the rule, nor with the interpretation thereof.  And in events in which TMO and VAR and hawkeye are in operation, play can be stopped, incidents can be analysed and rules can be implemented.

In the vast majority of cases, once the incident has been identified and can be clearly viewed, the decision is automatic.  Even the grey area in the off-side rule is more about millimeters now than it is about interpretation.  That’s a function of clear and unambiguous rules.

Racing has its natural break in play, at the end of every race.  Moreover, it has its own TMO at every meeting, for every race.  Incidents can be viewed from every angle, side-on camera, head-on camera, scout camera.  Participants can even be interviewed.  (Whether or not those interviews are necessary or even relevant is open to question, although that is probably a discussion for another day.) 

In Division 1 of the two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle at Navan on 29th January, Brazos moved to the front on the run to the home turn, and he was still in front when he landed over the final flight.  Challenged by Folcano 150 yards out, he moved to his right, taking Folcano to his right with him, and he clung on to win by a fast-diminishing nose. 

The head-on camera showed that Brazos jumped the final flight about two horse-widths off the inside rail and that, by the time he got to the winning line, he was about six or seven horse-widths off it.  He had taken Folcano into the centre of the track with him.  The Betfair post-race market said that it was odds-on that Folcano would get the race, odds-against that Brazos would keep it.  That is to say that, after the race had been run, the market was of the opinion that it was more likely that placings would be reversed than that the result would be allowed to stand.

The stewards held an enquiry and announced: no alteration.

In the finale at Dundalk 10 days ago, Barretstown broke smartly from stall one and led early.  He was still in front as they raced to the furlong marker, when he was challenged and headed by Star Harbour on the stands side.  Barretstown battled back though as Star Harbour leaned to his left.  The pair of them duelled through the final 100 yards, drifting, as they did, from the centre of the track towards the far rail by the time they hit the winning line, where Star Harbour was a short head in front.

A stewards’ inquiry was announced.  On Betfair, they bet about 8/13 that Star Harbour would keep the race, about 13/8 that Barretstown would get it.  Again, the market got it wrong.  The placings of the first two horses home were reversed.

It is an indictment of one of the core rules of racing that, even after a race has been run, after all the angles have been viewed, when all the necessary information is in, there can still be such general uncertainty about who the winner is.  That something as fundamental as the result of a race can be reliant on something as subjective as the collaborative opinion of a group of individuals, the make up of which changes from race meeting to race meeting. 

This is not about a yellow card or a free kick or a line call or an LBW.  It is not about in incident that could influence the result.  It is about the actual result.  It’s the whole thing.  Who gets the points, who goes through to the next round, who gets the trophy. 

It has always been thus in racing, of course.  And it is not an issue that is the sole preserve of the Irish.  Don’t bet on nurseries or stewards’ inquiries, your granddad always told you.  But that was a generation ago, and we are still where we were then.  It is the norm now because it has always been the norm.  But that’s not a good enough reason.  There are not many things in life that are the same now as they were a generation ago.

We have been here before many times over the course of the last decade.  There are so many reasons why the benefit of the doubt should go to the horse who suffered the interference, not to the horse who caused the interference.  It happens sometimes, that the benefit of the doubt goes to the victim, but it is not enough that it happens sometimes. 

Default position seems still to be, let the result stand unless it is probable that the victim would have won without the interference.  Default position should be, reverse placings unless it is probable that the perpetrator would have won without the interference.  And that should be the default position all of the time, not just some of the time.

There would be consistency in that. 

© The Irish Field, 27th February 2021