Have The BHA Taken Things Too Far With The Bans Distributed?

Have The BHA Taken Things Too Far With The Bans Distributed?

Cast your mind's back to the concluding race on Day One of the Cheltenham Festival - the National Hunt Challenge Cup for Amateur Riders; painful to think how long that was ago now..

The outcome of the race - won by the Ben Pauling-trained Le Breuil, angered many personnel inside and outside the sport, with ten horses falling or unseating - one of them fatally, with a further four pulling up absolutely knackered.

However, the notion of the intervention that the stewards had after the contest had completed, raised several eyebrows and led to many criticising the British Horseracing Authority's response instead to the jockeys' actions onboard the beaten horses.

Eighteen horses began the four mile contest resulting in only four managing to complete the course, with the BHA handing out bans to three riders who were deemed to have 'continued in the race when it appeared to be contrary to the horse's welfare', while another was banned for 'using his whip when his horse was showing no response'.

The BHA have suggested that if the horses welfare is to be put amongst paramount priority, the most appropriate and professional people need to be onboard them.

Champion trainer Nicky Henderson - who saddled the well-fancied Ok Corral, was the first to respond to the disgraceful measures set out by the sport's governing body.

(Credit: Racing Post) He said: "I think it's very sad they're looking at it that way. These races are part and parcel of National Hunt racing. When you start banning this and banning that, my worry is they might one day ban jump racing completely."

One of the riders awarded a ban was Declan Lavery, who finished third aboard the JP McManus-owned Jerrysback, who was some 47 lengths behind the front two who finished - Le Breuil and Discorama.

Henderson said: "What on earth was the jockey on the third horse meant to do? One rule says you have to ride your horse to achieve the best possible placing – but then you're banned for finishing third.

"In my opinion the horse wasn't exhausted. If he'd pulled up he'd surely have been fined. These are good amateur riders - they're nearly professional amateur riders.

"I know we have to look after our sport and think about the public, but I just hope they aren't going too far," he said.

Lavery, 27, labelled his ten-day ban as simply unfair, and has since launched an appeal to officials.

The regulator issued a strong statement post-race, which referred to last year's Cheltenham review – carried out by the sport's ruling body after the death of six horses at the 2018 Festival.

This has such cast a dark cloud over the future of races for amateurs at the prestigious meeting.

It said: "The Cheltenham review was clear that amateur riders should be aware that they are subject to particular public scrutiny and that amateur participation in its current form at future festivals will be under material threat should further incidents occur."

Sir Anthony McCoy was next to post his views, and spoke of his disgust over the BHA's judgment during an ITV Racing broadcast on the Wednesday, expressing his grief and misery over the bans handed out to the jockeys

The 20-times Champion Jockey said: “I’m embarrassed for the British Horseracing Authority.

“Talk about bringing racing into disrepute. The horse that finished third, Jerrysback, he [Declan Lavery] got 10 days for that … I never thought at any stage that he did the wrong thing.

“Are you going to explain to the punters that backed Jerrysback, or the owner, some poor owner would like to come to Cheltenham and get a horse that can walk into the winner’s enclosure and finish third or fourth and you’re going to take that away from them?

"It’s actually a disgrace. You get any person with experience of jump racing, whether it be a trainer, an owner or a jockey that will defend that decision … I guarantee you won’t find one senior person that will.”

Jerrysback who finished third, was not visible on TV replays during the race’s latter stages but stewards evidently took the view that he should have been pulled up before the final fence.

McCoy spoke in favour of many arguing that the chance to be placed and collect some valuable prize money was a good reason for any jockey to continue, and emphasised to all spectators that the horse had completed the course thoroughly unharmed.

Ted Walsh, trainer and father of Ruby Walsh - who landed the day's opening race on Klassical Dream, added his perspective.

(Credit: Racing TV) He said: “If they continue to do this, they will kill National Hunt racing.

“Ninety-nine per cent of riders will know if the horse can’t continue and they’ll pull them up. Only 1% of them [stewards] know what they’re doing.

"It’s a dangerous game. All those people in the stands know it. If you don’t want to watch it, go and look at the croquet," he said.

On the accounts of the latters, the BHA have by reason responded, with a spokesman expressing: “It is the responsibility of jockeys to pull up tired horses.

“This is absolutely fundamental and the rules are clear that priority must be given to the horse if it would be contrary to the horse’s welfare to continue riding out.

"This is why the stewarding panel, which comprises two former jump jockeys, imposed the penalties on the riders.”