Stipendiary Stewards and JCA get it horribly wrong at Ellerslie

by Brian de Lore
Published 6th December 2019

Saturday at Ellerslie saw one of the worst decisions seen
on a New Zealand racecourse for some years when stipendiary stewards reversed
the first and second placings in race two, the Executive Travel Maiden
Two-year-Old over 1100 metres.

To add insult to injury, the Judicial Control Authority
(JCA) ratified the mistake by rubber-stamping the decision – bringing into
question both the competence of the JCA officials on the day and the entire
Racing Integrity Unit (RIU) structure which has in the past been the subject of
criticism from key stakeholders.

Protests, upheld or dismissed, race interference, jockey
penalties, etc., isn’t a domain to where The Optimist would typically venture.
Too many grey areas exist, and too often, decisions are made on narrow margins
of a controversial and debatable nature which often polarises racegoers. It’s
better to stay away from the debate in those cases, and this blog has always
attempted to deal with facts and make a neutrally fair evaluation.

It wouldn’t be an easy job being a stipendiary steward.
Race day responsibilities are wide-ranging, and the requirements would generate
a reasonable degree of pressure, often thought to be the reason why stipes are
rarely seen to smile. Rule 204 of the Rules of Racing says:

“The functions of Stipendiary Stewards and Investigators
are to: (a) maintain the integrity of Races and racing; (b) regulate and
oversee all Race day matters and all matters related to Races and racing; (c)
investigate potential breaches of the Rules; (d) assist in relation to
licensing matters; (e) generally, to do all things necessary so that Races and
racing are conducted efficiently and with integrity and in accordance with
these Rules.”

But Saturday’s episode was blatant. It was a clear-cut error of judgment; should a protest even have been lodged? Grandstand critics are never wrong, and from the safety of a green leather lazy-boy chair in front of the big flat screen, I watched the race live. When the siren went, my thinking was that it would take only around 60 seconds to reach a ‘protest dismissed’ verdict.

How wrong can you be! Incomprehensibly the stewards and JCA
went with it and turfed-out first-past-the-post horse Taroni and promoted Bordeaux
Le Rouge into first place. Since the live viewing, I have revisited the video replay
on the Love Racing website no fewer than a dozen times.

On every occasion, the same conclusion was reached. The two
horses briefly came together right on the winning post, but Bordeaux Le Rouge
was never ever going to run past Taroni and win the race. Had Taroni kept a
straight line it would have won by more than a length.

So why did the stipes change the result and the JCA ratify it? Firstly, Rule 642 of racing says that to change the result: “the Judicial Committee is of the opinion that the horse so interfered with would have finished ahead of the first mentioned horse had such interference not occurred.”

In my view, that criteria had not been met – nowhere close to it. Could I be so wrong, after all, I had been studying races for over 50 years since the days of such greats as Palisade, Eiffel Tower, Kumei, Weenell, Daryl’s Joy, Jazz, Star Belle, Laramie, Royal Bid, Piko, Game Call, Spray Doone, Koral, Lindred, Teak, Pep and Brazil to name a few – what a fabulous era of great horses. Perhaps the years have dimmed my vision and fogged my judgment?

“If the punters out there don’t have any confidence in our judicial system they are not going to bet.” – Nigel Tiley

The only way to determine this was to consult others. As a
top-class ex-jockey and now a highly experienced trainer, Nigel Tiley was my
first call. Nigel also sits on the committee of the Trainers’ Association
Committee and is the trainers’ representative on the NZTR Members’Council, and
few horsemen would be better credentialled to review the incident.

Nigel said: “On Saturday’s decision, the fact that I had two phone calls from Australia questioning what the rules were in New Zealand. These were two experienced race watchers who could not get their heads around the reversing of the placings. They were both adamant that under their judicial system the protest would not have been upheld.

“But under our rules, it also should have been dismissed.
We have discussed it in a conference call of the Trainers’ Association Executive,
so I can’t speak on behalf of the Association, but I have spoken to a lot of racing
people, and it’s 100 percent unanimous that the stipes made the wrong decision.
I was appalled.

“If the punters out there don’t have any confidence in our
judicial system they are not going to bet,” concluded Nigel Tiley.

Next, I phoned Racehorse Trainers’ Association President Tony
Pike who was also willing to express his concern at the outcome of the race.  

“I had no problem with the siren going off,” commented
Tony, “but it should have been dismissed. There’s a lot of backlash out there and
it will be interesting to see what the final outcome is.

“I was on-course in Perth watching on TV and didn’t see the
head-on film until later but I was disappointed with the process in the room.
The stipes shouldn’t be asking or assuming the connections are going to lodge
the protest and when the connections didn’t lodge it, and they had to lodge it
themselves and have gone down that path, they probably felt the need to uphold

The process of which Tony Pike referred to went like this:
In the hearing room, the Chairman John Oatham stated mistakenly that the
connections of the second horse had lodged the protest. It was soon established
that was not the case and that a protest would not be forthcoming from them, so
the Stewards lodged it themselves. The siren sounding before the horses had
returned to scale was also initiated by a steward, but Oatham was apparently not
aware of that which raises a serious procedural question.

Other questions arising are: Was that initial mistake in the room a mitigating factor in making the final decision? Was the fact that Bordeaux Le Rouge was the hot favourite at $1.30 for the win a sub-conscious pressure on the stewards, and would that pressure not have been present had it been a $20 shot? No one is suggesting that this was anything but an honest mistake, but it should be noted the loser here has no grounds for appeal.

“My experience with the JCA is that they lack racing experience and an ability to read races.” – Tony Pike

Further second-hand anecdotal information received is
suggesting that not all four stewards officiating agreed with the decision, but
that cannot be confirmed. The same source also said that Bordeaux Le Rouge’s jockey
Sam Collett was not questioned at all.   

Tony Pike further commented: “My experience with the JCA is
that they lack racing experience and an ability to read races, and they have gone
and upheld it. They are obviously intelligent people, but on the subject of
reading races, they’re not really qualified.

“Mistakes are made and this may be a one-off case, but we
have to make sure the process and the rules are adhered to – the decision by
the JCA was blatantly wrong. It was a lower-level race, and the ramifications
were not great, but racing is lacking confidence in getting good decisions,
especially from the JCA, and there will come a time and place when this will
happen in a significantly bigger race with far greater ramifications.”

The Stewards Report Said:

“Following the race a protest was lodged by the Stipendiary
Stewards alleging interference by the 1st placed horse TARONI (D Johnson) to
the 2nd placed horse BORDEAUX LE ROUGE (S Collett) inside the final 100 metres.
After viewing films and hearing submissions the Judicial Committee upheld the
protest relegating TARONI to 2nd placing. The final placings now read – 1
BORDEAUX LE ROUGE (S Collett replaced T Harris) – Promoted to 1 st placing
after suffering interference inside the final 100 metres. TARONI (D Johnson) –
Relegated from 1st placing after causing interference inside the final 100

Interestingly, if Danielle Johnston had failed to keep her mount
straight enough to stop the second horse from winning and the interference was
severe enough to warrant a change of placings, one might have thought that
Johnson would at the very least received a warning if not a fine or suspension.
But not a mention.

Further to that, the Stewards Report above is very sheepish
in its wording. It states a reversal of placings takes place but doesn’t go as
far as saying that, “in the opinion of the stewards the horse so interfered
with would have finished ahead of the first-mentioned horse.”

Everyone with an interest in the judicial system of racing
should review the race themselves and make a judgment, Depending on your
opinion, you may have a future on the JCA panel because they are clearly having
problems with people who boast a series of letters behind their names.


On Thursday 5th December, Racing Bill No 2 was released which is due to have it’s first reading before Parliament adjourns for the year. Here is the link to read it:

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