Initial Grand National report shows a few cracks in the BHA’s logic and weakness in Mr Bittar

The BHA’s findings regarding the deaths of Synchronised and According To Pete, as well as those concerning the start of the 2012 Grand National were published today.

The cause of Synchronised’s injury appears to have been the solid structure around which the National fences are  built – thick wooden stakes which have a rubber-covering applied before being dressed with spruce.  The report does not conclude that these posts caused the fractures to Synchronised but I believe the evidence points very strongly in that direction.

Here is the relevant section

After the fall, the horse got up and carried on running and jumping fences riderless. On review of the footage there is no evidence to suggest he was carrying any sort of injury at this point. This is corroborated by speed sensing data, which shows that the horse was travelling at the same speed both before and after the fall at Becher’s.

The injury that led to Synchronised being put down occurred at Fence 11. He appears to decelerate into the fence and does not jump it cleanly, dragging his hindlegs and hindquarters through the fence. It would appear he fractured his right hind tibia and fibula in the process.

This finding should signal the end for these wooden stakes. Aintree will have to come up with a way of building those famous fences around a material which has sufficient give to keep bones intact.

As for the start, the BHA has managed to find all 40 riders guilty of offences there while enforcing no punishment. They excuse themselves from this by applying discretion:

Despite the apparent breaches of the relevant Rules, it has been decided not to bring charges against any rider. In arriving at this decision the BHA took account of the effect of the delay caused by the late arrival of Synchronised at the start and the complications experienced with re-setting the starting tape.

In taking account of these factors, what logic was applied? Did the delay caused by both events cause the horses to become so difficult to control that the riders could not be blamed?  If so, then how can the jockeys have been guilty of the offence(s)? Or did the delay justify in some odd way the jockeys’ behaviour?  If the latter is the case, then what is on offer is a post-National dispensation from what the riders were instructed to do pre-National, so no offence there either.

The only other conclusion is that the BHA has finally and publicly accepted what we all knew anyway – pre-race briefings to Grand National jockeys are a complete waste of time and breath. The post-2011 BHA GN report carried strong evidence that speed over the first six fences is highly likely to be a factor in the number of casualties.  In light of that it seems foolish to tacitly concede that the jockeys can pretty much behave as they like at the start; why offer them carte-blanche regarding their intended tactics, the most favoured of which seems to be ‘get a good position’ (go fast early)?

If changes are to be implemented effectively, the BHA is going to have to take a much stronger stance on the behaviour of jockeys at the start and perhaps even in the early stages of the race itself.

In this case, the BHA has decided to write to riders ‘expressing disappointment’:

The BHA has written to all the riders concerned and expressed their disappointment at the conduct of riders at the start, especially bearing in mind that considerable emphasis was placed on this aspect of the race during the pre-race Jockey’s Briefing. In showing disregard to the instructions of the Starter, the riders placed those on the ground assisting with the start in a potentially dangerous situation.

Disappointment is a Victorian concept in my opinion. It’s like saying ‘It’s not fair!’ When disappointment occurs, the fault lies with the disappointee not the disappointer.  People will not change their behaviour because you are disappointed; they will change it if the penalty for not doing so is severe enough.

I am not having a go at jockeys here. I suspect that Mr Bittar is a compromiser at heart: in his position, compromise should come in much smaller doses. “We think you’re wrong but we will let you off” is no foundation on which to build anything. Sensible rules, just punishment and a proper understanding of when to apply these will be critical to Mr Bittar’s future at the BHA.  This has been a very woolly start.  I hope the recommendations of the full Grand National report contain no fudge.

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