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Disciplinary Panel reasons regarding Vitor Santos and Robert Stephens

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On 16 July 2015 the Disciplinary Panel of the  British Horseracing Authority (BHA) held an enquiry regarding jockey Vitor Santos and trainer Robert Stephens. The following represents the Panel's findings from this hearing:

  1. On 16 July 2015, the Disciplinary Panel of the BHA held an inquiry into the running and riding of CHANTECLER at Chelmsford City on 17 June 2015. The horse ran in the 6.20pm race on that day, the Bet Toteplacepot Handicap Stakes, a Class 5 event over 10 furlongs. The jockey was Vitor Santos, a 7lb claimer. He was alleged to be in breach of Rule (B)59.2. The Stewards at Chelmsford City held a thorough inquiry after the race, and concluded that there was indeed a breach of that Rule, as they found that Santos had intentionally failed to ensure that the horse ran on its merits. In accordance with the usual practice, the Stewards then referred the matter to the BHA.
  2. The BHA then wrote to Santos informing him that he had to attend before this Panel to answer the allegation of breach of Rule (B)59.2. (Strictly, the breach in question is a breach of Rule (B)58, of a kind described in Rule (B)59.2, but as this is frequently called for short a breach of Rule (B)59.2, the Panel follows this technically inaccurate convention). They wrote also to the trainer, Robert Stephens, to require him to answer a charge that he was in breach of Rule (C)45 – the Rule which treats a trainer as in breach of his obligation to give proper instructions to his jockey unless he demonstrates that the jockey failed to follow them. On about 8 July 2015, the BHA also sent to Santos and Stephens a document providing details of its criticisms of Santos’s ride.
  3. In answer to those charges, both Santos (who was represented by Rory Mac Neice) and Stephens (represented by Roderick Moore, instructed by Martin Bourne of Darbys Solicitors) filed Schedule (A)6 forms which set out their considered responses. Santos admitted a breach. Stephens denied a breach, expressing agreement with the BHA’s criticisms of the ride, and saying that Santos had failed to follow his instructions.
  4. The case against Stephens was dealt with at the outset of the inquiry.  Mr Moore (for Stephens) pointed out that the BHA had positively accepted that instructions were given to Santos in the terms explained at the local inquiry, and that it was clear that Santos had not ridden to  them.  Those instructions were that the horse had been pulling hard at home, so he should be dropped in and settled, then come late to see if he wins or not. The Panel accepted, as did the BHA, that those were instructions which were capable of ensuring a horse is run on its merits, and it was obvious, for reasons to be explained, that Santos did not ride to them – as much was implicit in his admission of a breach of Rule (B)59.2. Therefore, the requirements set out in Rule (C)45.5 to exonerate a trainer from complicity in a breach of Rule (B)59.2 were both made out on the BHA’s own case.
  5. The Panel therefore accepted Mr Moore’s submission and dismissed the case against Stephens.  Before doing so, the Panel viewed the videos of the race to check whether, despite the BHA’s position, it should require Stephens to stay to answer questions about whether his instructions were the true ones. The Panel recognised that it had a supervisory role, and was alive to the possibilities that trainers can sometimes dissociate themselves too easily from a jockey’s bad ride, and can even collude with or lean on a jockey for him to take the blame alone for a bad ride.  Though the Panel ultimately took a very dim view of Santos’s ride, it was felt that the circumstances required the (C)45 charge against Stephens be dismissed.
  6. CHANTECLER came to Stephens after he claimed it a fortnight before the Chelmsford City race, which was its first under his training. Santos rode work on it before the race. In the race itself, there was no criticism of Santos's performance from the start to the 3 furlong marker. He dropped the horse out in last place, and had a prolonged task to get it to settle. He eventually achieved this during the run down the back straight, though the horse continued to take a hold. At this stage of the race, the horse remained in last place, about 2 lengths behind the horse that was next-to-last and 7 or 8 lengths off the leaders. These relative positions were maintained around the home turn. As the field passed the 2 furlong marker (just before the beginning of the home straight), all the other jockeys began to get to work. Santos remained motionless, but his horse maintained its relative position with the other runners. For about 14 strides from the beginning of the straight, he continued essentially as a passenger. For two strides he then gave some push, and he had plenty of room to go through with a challenge. His mount drifted about two horse's widths to his right at this point, but he stopped riding. CHANTECLER remained full of running and was making progress despite the lack of effort from Santos. About half a furlong from the finish he put in another brief effort. He had ample room to go for gaps inside and outside the horse ahead of him, but did not push for either route. For the last few strides of the race, Santos actually took a hold. He was beaten a head and a neck for third place, and a little over 3 lengths by the winner.
  7. Santos admitted breach but offered two explanations for this disturbing performance. He said that CHANTECLER was hanging in the last furlong and that the horse “did not feel right behind”. These are the same explanations he gave to the local Stewards. However, he made no report to this effect (or any other effect) at scales. Having viewed the recordings of the race, this Panel saw no indication that the horse was hanging. It drifted slightly to the right, but no more, about a furlong out. The race itself showed no indication that Santos had any concern about the health or welfare of the horse. Indeed, after the finish, which he reached with a hold on the horse, he continued to let it run through the horses that had finished ahead of him, and to bowl along keenly all the way around the bend after the finish. He did not dismount, but rode back to the unsaddling area. During the Stewards Inquiry, the Veterinary Officer reported that he had examined the horse about 20 minutes after the race and that it was 1/5 lame at the trot in its right hind limb. The Panel concluded that Santos was unaware of any such mild lameness if it existed during the race, and that this did not impede the horse or explain his ride. He did not mention that the horse "did not feel right behind" until after he heard the report by the Veterinary Officer at the inquiry. Nor did he say this or anything like it to the trainer's representative (Mrs Stephens) when unsaddling – he merely told her that he was not happy with the horse but did not say that he wasn't right.
  8. So the Panel was left without any credible explanation from Santos to explain a ride which he admitted (and this was near inescapable, in the Panel's view) to be a deliberate failure to ride on the merits. Penalty fell to be determined largely by reference to the quality of the ride. It was not suggested that inexperience or lack of ability could explain or reduce the blameworthiness of the performance. The Panel was, however, made aware that Santos has had just 129 rides since first getting a licence in 2007, of which 15 have been this year. He has ridden only two winners. He is an "over 26 claimer" of 7 lbs employed by Stephens. Inexperience cannot excuse such a basic failure to ride a race, and especially not the restraint exercised in the last few strides. The Panel came close to concluding that such conduct justified an inference that matters such as betting reasons or handicapping considerations might lie behind the ride, even though there was no other evidence to support this. But it did not go this far, essentially for a reason advanced by Mr Mac Neice. He observed, fairly, that there was no element of subterfuge in Santos's riding – no flapping elbows or flourishes with the whip or extravagant movement. He argued that the appropriate penalty range was to be found in paragraph g) at page 11 of the Guide to Procedures and Penalties. But that is applicable to cases of schooling and conditioning and there was no warrant for taking such a view. He also suggested that Santos's real fault lay in a failure to pull up when he felt that the horse was "not right behind". But the Panel concluded that he had no such concerns. Even if he did have some worry, this case has to be assessed for an admitted breach of Rule (B)59.2, and not for an uncharged breach of Rule (D)45.4.
  9. Lyn Williams, presenting the BHA’s case, suggested that the appropriate penalty scheme was to be found in paragraph f) at page 10 of the Guide, referring to a “horse which appears capable of reaching a challenging position but which has intentionally never been asked to do so.” The Panel felt that a nearer approximation of what happened was to be found in paragraphs d) and e) which refer respectively to a “horse which has intentionally been restrained and not let down” and a “horse which has intentionally not been asked for sufficient effort”. In any event the penalty range and suggested entry point is the same for all three categories – a range of 28-90 days suspension and an entry point of 42 days. The Panel viewed this case as approaching the worst example of a deliberate failure to ride on the merits that does not fall into the still more serious categories a), b) or c), which concern riding to lose in support of lay betting or stopping a winner.
  10. It was decided that a suspension of 84 days (ie 12 weeks) was justified in principle here, but this was reduced to 70 days (ie 10 weeks) to reflect a credit for the admission of breach before the hearing. Even that reduction can be seen as generous given that the evidence of breach was clear and video based.
  11. Santos was therefore suspended for 70 days to run from 24 July to 1 October 2015 inclusive. CHANTECLER was suspended from running by the local Stewards for 40 days from 20 June to 29 July 2015 inclusive, and that sanction of course remains in place.

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