Senior stipendiary steward William Nunneley and Jamie Stier, director of Raceday Operations and Regulation at the BHA both appeared on TV today to defend the procedure used in the bypassing of the last fence in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The summary of both interviews was that the regulations were carried out in a proper fashion and that ‘the jockeys had their heads down’.
BHA general instructions 3.7, section 10 b) states:
as soon as possible after an obstruction occurs, plant the direction markers exactly opposite to the central position of any obstruction on the take-off or landing side, whether it be an injured horse or Rider or any essential equipment of the First Aid organisation dealing with such horse or Rider. No gaps should be left between each marker;
The markers were originally set out equally spaced, with gaps, across the fence: how soon after that they were moved to the position designated above, I don’t know.
c) proceed further down the course on the opposite side to which the obstacle is being bypassed, and signal to oncoming Riders, by means of the Fox 40 whistle and the black and white chequered flag, the presence of a hazard ahead. The position taken up by the Fence Attendant should ensure that Riders have sufficient time to react to the situation ahead (see Annex C). This distance should be increased if the obstacle is positioned soon after a bend
j) if necessary, use the black and white chequered flag and Fox 40 whistle to signal the presence of a possible hazard ahead in other circumstances (e.g. a fall on the flat or between obstacles) where the hazard does not necessitate the stopping of
the race. The position taken up by the Fence Attendant should ensure that Riders have sufficient time to react to the situation ahead;
The annex (C) to the document explains the duties in more detail.
2. Either one or two Fence Attendants will also stand in a prominent position down the course, but on the opposite side to which the obstacle is to be bypassed, and:
i) blow a Fox 40 whistle, and;
ii) wave a black and white chequered flag to indicate the presence of a hazard
The position taken by the Fence Attendant(s) will be approximately 70 yards ahead of
It is difficult to tell from TV footage how far from the last fence the flag was waved – I estimate it to be about ten horse-lengths, nothing like the 70 yards laid down in the document although a graphic offers some leeway on this 70 yard rule (I can find this leeway exemption only on the graphic and not as part of the document text).
Mr Nunneley and Mr Stier both justified the moving of the markers to the inside by mentioning the importance of protecting the vulnerable from a loose horse. In fact, that clustering of markers is what BHA procedure decrees.
But what is wrong with increasing the number of markers available at each fence, or, indeed, dolling the fence off fully with cones, so that jockeys are left in no doubt?
The Fox whistle is one used by referees of football matches among other personnel. I cannot comment on its effectiveness pitted against the noise of 50,000 punters yelling encouragement at two strongly fancied horses – especially when the whistle is not blown 70 yards away from the obstacle.
Ed Gillespie’s team normally do a superb job. As I said at the time of the Cross Country debacle in December, they should have put up their hands and agreed to ensure the course was signed and marked much more effectively. The executive did not agree and stated that they believed there was no fault on their part.
Everyone makes mistakes but racing is developing a ‘circle-the-wagons’ attitude that serves neither them nor the sport well. An apology goes a long way with most people. Sorry shouldn’t be the hardest word.