1. The Race:
This was the 1.10 at Nottingham on 18 May 2021, a Class 5 British Station Studs EBF Maiden Stakes (GBB Race) for 2-year-olds over 6 furlongs. Mr Watson rode NOISY NIGHT. Soon after the start the horse veered sharply left and lost a lot of ground. No criticism could be made of Mr Watson’s riding of the horse at that stage and he did his best to get the horse under control. However, as proved to be common ground in the hearing before us, thereafter he failed to comply with Rule (F)37of the Rules of Racing in that: (F)37 .1 he did not and was not seen to ask the horse for timely, real and substantial efforts to achieve the best possible placing and (F)37.2 he did not take all other reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to ensure that the horse was given a full opportunity to achieve the best possible position. That is not of course and as we emphasise the end of the matter as we considered and as is set out below.
2. The Stewards Enquiry:
Again, as is conceded before us, Mr Watson was frank with the Enquiry and did not contend that he did comply with the above Rules. He explained that such was the effect of NOISY NIGHT’S career off a line at the start that all hope was then gone at that early stage. He judged that he should not make any more vigorous efforts in the race for that reason and thus merely guided the horse home. In fact it transpired that the horse beat one other horse to the line without more significant efforts from Mr Watson. The Stewards found him to be in breach of Rule (F)37.2 and imposed a suspension from riding under Rules for 7 days.
3. No one suggests that there was any intention of Mr Watson to do anything other than the best that could be achieved at the outset. The gravamen of the asserted breach is that contrary to the Rules he failed to comply at an early stage after the horse had veered away and merely accepted what he decided was a “fait accompli” and a lost cause. The Rules relate to riding throughout the whole race.
4. The hearing before us: Mr Louis Weston appeared for the BHA and Mr Rory Mac Neice appeared for Mr Watson, there was no objection to the constitution of the Panel; a/ the course of the hearing I - agreement was reached as to the issues, based on helpful written submissions from both sides II - we heard the BHA presentation of its case including study of the video footage of the race from all angles a number of times III - we heard the BHA submissions IV - we heard Mr Mac Neice’s submissions V - we were referred by Mr Mac Neice to the opinions of others in the social media and the press as to what they thought about the Stewards decision and the issue before us (although in due course we found these to be inadmissible) VI - as requested by Mr Mac Neice we watched footage of a race at Newbury three days previously where Mr Watson was riding VII - we heard evidence from Mr Watson who was then cross examined and re-examined VIII - we heard final submissions IX - after our ruling as to the Appeal against the finding of breach we heard further submissions as to the penalty imposed. b/ the Rules and guidance: Rule (F)37 is set out above; Guidance: the following must be addressed 1* was the horse asked for “...timely, real and substantial effort?” 2* was it ridden to obtain the best possible position? 3. Were all other reasonable and permissible measures taken THROUGHOUT THE RACE to ensure the horse was given a full opportunity to achieve the best possible position? If any of these is answered NO - WAS THE EXPLANATION GIVEN BY THE RIDER OR TRAINER AN ACCEPTABLE REASON? If YES no breach If NO breach made out. c/ the BHA case: the BHA submitted in summary that there was an admitted breach of Rule (F)37. There was no acceptable reason; a Jockey must notwithstanding such an incident engage the horse in racing throughout the whole race and if he or she decided that it was a lost cause that did not excuse him or her from the scrutiny of the Rules. d/ the Appellants case: in summary Mr Mac Neice submitted a manifest “lost cause", that the horse was “out of contention" as soon as it veered away and that this was an acceptable reason for what would otherwise have been a breach of the Rule. e/ that therefore the issue before us was: Having concluded that the answer to the first three questions was (as is accepted ) NO on the balance of probabilities was the asserted reason an acceptable reason?
5. Our Analysis and Findings :
I - as to the admissibility issue we agree with the submissions of the BHA. It is for the Judicial Panel to make a judgement as to the issues in any process and that process is not properly assisted by the presentation to it of the opinions of others whether from social media, the views of respected members of the press or other no doubt well meaning individuals. As has been pointed out, if that were a legitimate procedure it would be equally appropriate for opinions to be put forward tending towards the opposite conclusion. The opinions concerned were, in part, from unknown individuals, unsigned, unaccepted by the BHA and not subject to testing by cross examination in the judicial process. Such “evidence“ we rule inadmissible.
II - Although there was a significant early incident as to which the riding of Mr Watson cannot be criticised the Rules still apply. It may be considered that they are strict but they are the Rules and they must be complied with. We find that from an early stage before the three furlong marker that Mr Watson had decided to coast the horse home.
III - Public Interest in Racing : the public are entitled to see and assess a horses ability and how it runs even when it is likely to be beaten. A horse should be expected to race in the real sense of the word throughout the whole of the race.
IV - The Jockey’s decision: if a Jockey decides that a horse is “out of contention" that does not eliminate the application of the Rules. The decision of the Jockey is not definitive.
V - Particular Findings: there were no horse welfare issues involved; no one suggests that a horse must be given a hard race but that does not mean that it should not be raced at all in the real sense of the word; Mr Watson admitted in cross examination that he “could potentially have finished closer", and he did not of course come last.
VI - Relevance of the “Beaufort" hearing and the earlier race at Newbury: in another “running and riding" case before the Judicial Panel, consideration was given to what might be an “acceptable reason". The Panel concerned reflected on a possible example ie where a horse suffered significant interference which deprived it of every chance. Mr Mac Neice perfectly properly relied on the choice of the chosen example as analogous to the issue before us. It is to be noted however that the example chosen was not intrinsic to the findings in those proceedings which concerned allegations of schooling and conditioning on the racecourse and we are not bound by the example referred to as a possible acceptable reason. Each hearing is case specific. Further reliance was placed on Mr Watson’s ride in a race at Newbury in asserted similar circumstances where the Stewards took no action. Again, these hearings are case specific. What the Stewards do or do not do in a different race on a different day on a different course is, with respect, a matter for them. 6. Our unanimous decision as to the defined issue is that on the balance of probabilities the reason advanced for non-compliance with Rule (F)37 was and is not acceptable.
7. Deposit and Penalty:
we return the deposit as to an Appeal which was not frivolous. It was very helpfully and ably argued on both sides. We do in our discretion consider that bearing in mind the rationale behind these strict Rules ie the integrity of racing that any undermining of it in this case was at a low level and we reduce the penalty further to five days suspension
Notes to Editors:
1. The Panel for the Enquiry was: HH James O'Mahony, Chloe Fairley and Steve Winfield. Please note, the BHA Judicial Panel is an independent body which encompasses the Disciplinary Panel, Appeal Board and Licensing Committee. It receives administrative support from the BHA via the Judicial Panel Secretary.
The original article can be found here.