Your horse has just won in a tight finish, you are poised to collect your winnings and suddenly the dreaded “dong, dong, dong” sounds and the announcer intones “Stewards Inquiry, Stewards Inquiry”.
Your heart drops as you realise you are now facing a lottery far greater than the race itself.
The Orders and Rules of Racing, have eight pages dedicated to the role of the stewards and the full rule book extends to 501 pages. Apart from a Stipendiary Steward, who is paid and appointed by the HRA, the stewards at the meeting are all amateurs, appointed by the course executive. Although the stewards have to be ratified by the HRA the quality of stewarding does vary very much, and therein lies my issue – there is a lack of consistency in the decisions made by differing panels of stewards .
Let us start by looking at the 12:15 race at Newmarket on 2nd November. I was at Newmarket reading the race and although the first two horses did come together in the final half furlong, it looked to me to be accidental and six of one / half a dozen of the other, indeed the stewards also agreed it was accidental. I believe Classic Descent "won" on merit.
Yet the stewards reversed the decision and placed Classic Descent (Seb Sanders) behind Black Rain (Jamie Spencer)
My comments in running were.
Classic Descent - held up, headway 1F out, took lead 1/2F, edged left against the whip, held on comfortably
Black Rain - with pace, took lead 2F, under pressure and edged right final furlong, rallying again at end.
Although Sanders on Classic Descent had the whip in his "wrong" hand, the contact between the runners was minimal and brief, no more than one stride. No consideration seems to have been taken of the fact Spencer’s mount was drifting right.
At a push there could, technically, have been a case that Sanders was guilty of improper riding by not changing his whip hand. However the stewards did not deem him to be guilty of improper riding.
Having since reviewed the race from several angles, I am still of the opinion that Classic Descent won the race on merit.
I just hope the jockeys championship does not come down to Spencer winning by one or two rides.
Now let us move forward just 25 hours and the 1:25 race at Ayr on Saturday, 3rd November. There was an almost identical scenario. Paint Stripper narrowly beat Red Skipper.
Paint Stripper's jockey had his whip in the "wrong" hand and the horse veered away from the whip. In this race there were two brief contacts between the runners and the finishing distance was an even shorter short head than the Newmarket race.
Yet after this race there was an iquiry, but on this occasion the result was not changed.
So two races, almost identical scenarios but two different stewarding decisions. Perversely the seemingly greater interference resulted in no action being taken.
Earlier on I referred to the appointment of Stipendiary Stewards, the aim of this was to provide some consistency. It does not seem to have worked.
So what is the answer. Well here are two suggestions.
- Have teams of professional stewards at the courses, stewards who work in the role on a full time basis. Preferably, former jockeys who know what it is like to be part of the cut and thrust of a race. Let’s do away with the part timers who only do the job a couple of days a year.
- Slightly more radical, just have two ‘part time’ stewards at the course to look at any indiscretions or deal with course inspections and the like, this could eb done by the current Stipes. Should there be a need for an inquiry then a central disciplinary team, again full time professionals, sitting in Shaftesbury Avenue, could carry out the inquiry. This is not as far fetched as it seems. Inquiries are currently carried out using video reviews of the race, so it does not matter if the stewards are not at the track. Video links can be used to interview the jockeys, again they do not need to be in the same room as the stewards.
Both options have the key factor that the Stewards holding the inquiries will be professionals, doing the job on a regular basis, hopefully leading to greater consistency.
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