IT appears that the debate on the stewarding of interference, in the headlines for the past month, is not going to vanish any time soon after a few more incidents came under scrutiny in the last week.
In a piece on Sky Sport Racing’s Racing Debate, the Tommy Dowson incident at Chepstow on the Tuesday after Christmas was replayed again with the opinion expressed – obviously strengthened by the fact that Forever Blessed and Sean Bowen were almost brought down – that there could be no argument under the interference rules against the handing down of a 13-day ban, though the offence was deemed ‘careless’.
Dowson had made exactly the same manoeuvre, moving back closer to the rail, at the previous hurdle, only this time there was no horse coming up his inside.
In the Chepstow incident, it is slightly difficult to be completely sure of the positioning of each horse before the interference manoeuvre as the camera angle is not directly head-on, but the rider, moving back to his former line and impeding a rival, was found guilty.
It looked a bit similar to an incident at Naas last Sunday. This time, Jack Doyle tried to come up the inside of Paul Townend after Bronn under Townend had jumped to his right at the second last and left room for Flame Bearer to get his upside.
Townend moved back to take his original position but, with no inner rail on his left, he almost pushed Flame Bearer off the track. Had there been a rail it might have been ‘interesting’ as there was a gap and Flame Bearer was three-quarters way into it by the time Townend came back on his original line. No action was taken.
The stewards’ report stated: “it appeared that Bronn landed to the right over the second last hurdle and may have interfered with Flame Bearer when going back onto his racing line. In his evidence J.J. Doyle stated that Bronn had jumped to the right while his own mount flew the hurdle to land on the inner of Bronn. He added that Bronn closed the gap down to the final hurdle and did not give his mount a clear line to that hurdle.
P. Townend stated that his mount had jumped slightly right at the second last hurdle but returned to his racing line and in his opinion Flame Bearer had gone inside the racing line between the spurs while attempting to go up his inner.
Bronn’s trainer Willie Mullins was of the opinion: “To me he (Flame Bearer) had no business going up the inside. To do that manoeuvre you are supposed to be clear of the other horse to come back out. I don’t agree with having no rails but jockeys nowadays seem to want it that way.”
And this remains a massive grey area here. Shutting the door on a rival, which occurred in both these cases, has the potential to cause serious interference.
We also saw plenty of ‘within the limits of tight race-riding’ at Leopardstown over Christmas. And then we had the report this week on incidents involving Robbie Dunne and Bryony Frost.
There had been no stewards’ interventions in any of the races involved in the BHA investigation. Previous to the race where Dunne blamed Frost for the fall and death of Cillian’s Well, the hearing’s report noted races at Leicester on February 13th, 2020 and Market Rasen on July 27th, 2020.
The panel found Dunne’s tactics “were harassing and deliberately intimidatory,” although it is difficult to see, outside the context of the investigation, and taking into account all general race-riding we see every day, how it would ever be regulated. And a scroll through social media opinions also show conflicting opinions on the Leicester race.
During her evidence, Frost had said Dunne’s manoeuvre at Market Rasen to put pressure on her and her mount Wisecracker rounding the home turn was unusual. “I don’t see a reason for that aggressive riding,” she said.
Dunne’s claim of foul by Frost over the incident at Southwell later in the year didn’t result in an inquiry and it certainly doesn’t look dangerous.
In the wider scale of racing, horses do veer off their line more over jumps. There is a view that jockeys’ evidence should not be heard in enquiries but that can create another difficulty. It’s not the same as a bad tackle in football. There is time and it is fair to hear the rider’s opinion – and more so over jumps when horses are likely to jump right or left and hang through tiredness themselves, with a jockey often blameless.
I think most racing fans were of the opinion that the great Desert Orchid appeared to hang into a rival to ‘intimidate’. That famous Victor Chandler and Gold Cup could be offered in evidence. And we’ll not blame the jockeys for some of Asterion Forlonge’s antics.
There is just huge inconsistency through these races. After three months of race-riding coming under such scrutiny, it really should be a wake-up call that more vigilant and consistent stewarding is necessary.