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New Year’s Day Controversy Prompts BHA Clarification On Stewards’ Rulings

Horses after RacingTwo almost identical incidents at Cheltenham and Musselburgh on New Year’s Day, which ended up with different results being delivered, have caused the BHA to act.

The controversy caused outrage on social media when two races were impacted by the discretion of the stewards’ decision making, and now the regulator has moved to clarify how and why the situation was able to unfold.

The first incident unfolded at Cheltenham, when Protektorat took the spoils in the Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle ahead of a field including Imperial Alcazar.

There were a few bumps and collisions along the way, however, and a stewards’ inquiry was subsequently called. After studying the video footage, they decided to reverse their original decision, with Fergal O’Brien’s horse awarded the win ahead of Dan Skelton’s five-year-old, who was deemed to have impeded his rival’s progress.

Date Race Original Winner Amended Winner
1st Jan 2020 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (12:15) Protektorat (15/2) Imperial Alcazar (3/1)

Later on at Musselburgh a similar episode unfolded. In the Betway Auld Reekie Handicap Chase, Nuts Well finished a head in front of Cracking Destiny, but not after a certain amount of interference between the pair appeared to affect the outcome of the race.

Date Race Winner Second
1st Jan 2020 “Auld Reekie” Handicap Chase (1:40) Nuts Well (10/1) Cracking Destiny (6/1)

However, on this occasion no stewards’ inquiry was called for – causing punters who had backed the runner-up furious that video of the race was not inspected.

Connections of Protektorat have confirmed that they will make a formal appeal against the decision, arguing the stewards’ belief that Imperial Alcazar lost ground based upon the crossing of his rival – costing him ‘three to four strides’ on the run-in for home.

The second-placed horse was running hard towards the line and had made up more than a length on Protektorat, which perhaps influenced the eventual decision.

Meanwhile, Harry Skelton – who was aboard Protektorat – was given a caution for careless riding for allowing the horse to veer violently to the right, and he also received a four-day whip ban for his troubles.

The Eye of the Beholder

Man Looking Through Binoculars

In the wake of the outcry, the BHA moved to confirm the position of the stewards in either incident. They said that the stewards at Musselburgh did not query the outcome of that renewal because the ‘crossing’ interference occurred after Nuts Well had gone clear in the lead.

Also, the BHA’s own enquiry revealed that the stewards came to the conclusion that the jockey on Cracking Destiny was using his whip directly behind the leader, which suggested he was not on his heels and that the eventual winner had taken a legitimate racing line to speed ahead.

That was in contrast to the Cheltenham debacle, where it was concluded that the interference had a direct correlation with the outcome of the race.

A spokesperson for the BHA said:

“When determining the result of a race following interference, the stewards must decide whether the sufferer would have beaten the interferer but for the interference.

“In order to reach this decision they follow a series of questions and guiding principles, which are published publicly via the online guide to procedures and penalties which can be found on the BHA’s rules website.”

They went on to clarify that the two incidents were not seen as identical, and so decisions are made based upon the individual evidence.

“It is very difficult to directly compare two incidents as there are always going to be important differences,” they concluded.

Update 9th Jan 2020: Protektorat Reinstated

Following an appeal by trainer Dan Skelton and jockey Harry Skelton, Protektorat has been reinstated as the winner of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on New Year’s Day.

The disciplinary panel agreed that the original second placed horse Imperial Alcazar had not been impeded sufficiently to cost him the race, overturning the decision made by the on-track stewards on the day.