As the British Horseracing Authority issues its decision on the Great Yarmouth imposter investigation, equine specialist lawyer Rachel Flynn looks at the facts and offers key takeaways from the controversy.
No doubt connections were thrilled when two-year-old Mandarin Princess won first time out at Great Yarmouth at the rewarding odds of 50-1.
But happiness turned to horror for trainer Charlie McBride, disgruntled punters and bookies when a scan quickly identified the horse as three-year-old stablemate Millie's Kiss, who had been due to run in a later race at the same course.
Thoroughbred racehorses are identified by microchips which are scanned and checked in by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) on entering the racecourse stables. The trainer’s two horses – both bay-coloured fillies with few markings – were stabled next to each other and a junior member of stable staff brought out the wrong horse while the trainer was delayed by having to wait for the jockey to weigh out after the previous race.
McBride told the Racing Post he did not notice it was the wrong horse because he was "stressed and rushing" after being delayed collecting the saddle. "It's an honest error and no-one stood to gain anything by it," he said.
Stewards referred the matter to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and an enquiry took place yesterday. BHA chief executive Nick Rust said ‘While it is the responsibility of the trainer to ensure the correct horse takes part in the race, as the regulator we take overall responsibility for the running of a race day, which is why it falls to us to resolve this specific matter.”
Newmarket-based McBride, widely thought of as one of the sports ‘nice guys’ explained that he would be “holding my hands up and pleading guilty because I made a mistake and I want to move on and get it over with”.
The BHA, which is largely seen as having a well-regarded integrity unit, is now taking steps to look at what can be done to minimise the chances of this happening again.
As a result of yesterday’s enquiry, Mandarin Princess was inevitably disqualified from the race at Yarmouth on the grounds that the horse that ran was in fact Millie’s Kiss. Meanwhile, McBride was fined £1,500 for breach of (C)37.2 by running a different horse in the race to the horse named at the time of entry.
Preventative measures that were introduced immediately after the race included scanning every runner as it leaves the stable yard before going to the paddock. The BHA explained that in the longer term they would be looking at possibilities as to what a properly resourced model would look like to carry out similar measures on a permanent basis.
Ultimately, any process is only as strong as the weakest link and the incident at Yarmouth should offer a strong warning that measures must be implemented to avoid a similar situation in the future. The situation was unprecedented so the disciplinary panel would have had to balance an appropriate penalty, given the strict liability on the trainer and the mitigating evidence that he had presented. The bottom line is that for punters on British racing to retain their confidence they need to know that the runners are running per the published race card.