RacingOdds and Sods

Consistently giving transgressors benefit of the doubt in interference cases is insufficient deterrent

Trainer Denis Hogan left furious after failing to be awarded Down Royal race in stewards’ room following interference from winner

Denis Hogan: the Tipperary trainer’s ire was justifiable after Benji’s Benefit was clearly hampered by the run of winner Tell Us This at Down Royal. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Just 48 hours after the National Hunt campaign wound up at Punchestown last week the new season began at Down Royal on Monday with a reminder of how the more things change the more they stay the same when it comes to interpreting racing’s interference rules.

In just the second race of the new season, Gavin Cromwell’s Tell Us This held on to a handicap hurdle in the stewards’ room despite significantly interfering with the Denis Hogan-trained runner-up Benji’s Benefit.

The latter’s jockey Aidan Kelly reported that, after the last flight, Tell Us This came across to him throughout the run in and that he shouted numerous times to the winner’s rider, Conor Stone-Walsh. The latter said his mount was very green and that he thought he was clear to go to the rail.

The head-on film clearly showed he wasn’t. Stone-Walsh kept using his whip in the ‘wrong’ hand and the officials decided he’d ridden improperly. They suspended him for nine days. They also concluded that, although the runner-up was interfered with, the winner hadn’t improved his finishing position and so the result stood.


Hogan’s response on X was furious and included flinging around some derisive hashtags. He has appealed the decision.

Inevitably, many pointed to Hogan’s chequered history with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board – including a three-month ban last season after four winners in five years failed drug tests – with some less than generous remarks on his apparent chutzpah.

But in this case the Tipperary trainer’s ire was justifiable. After the last there was room on the rail for Benji’s Benefit to run up. The winner’s drift under Stone-Walsh’s left-hand drive made that room disappear. The jockey’s suspension underlined how he had fouled. Yet the horse kept the race.

Five days earlier at Punchestown, another winner got the benefit of the doubt in the stewards’ room. Familiar Dreams hit the front in a valuable Mares bumper under jockey Aine O’Connor but then hung alarmingly left across the straight carrying the chasing Mozzies Sister with her.

Aine O’Connor and winning connection Francis McGee celebrate after winning with Familiar Dreams during the Fairyhouse Easter Festival. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

The latter horse had to be switched as Familiar Dreams continued to hang and just half a length separated them at the line. Mozzies Sister’s rider said the check cost him the race, but all of it felt like going through the motions. Sure enough, the stewards found the winner caused interference but hadn’t improved her position as a result so made no change.

Considering the ground thrown away, no one can argue Familiar Dreams wasn’t the best horse in the race. But a rulebook that makes it okay for the best horse to carry an opponent halfway across the track scot-free is badly flawed. The quickest way from A to B is in a straight line. Mozzies Sister was denied that line and there were no repercussions.

In neither case could anyone claim to be shocked. In what’s always a subjective exercise by stewards’ panels, the default setting in almost any marginal scenario is towards giving the benefit of the doubt to the transgressor. Sanctuary is sought in letting the supposed best horse win.

So, Familiar Dreams got to keep her race although blatantly compromising the chance of Mozzies Sister. And so did Tell Us This, despite provoking a situation where it’s not difficult to envision an outcome a lot worse than some disgruntled trainer venting spleen.

Jockeys ride to the culture that’s enforced and so Stone-Walsh was in an unenviable position. Given how the rules are implemented, had he not shut the door on his rival the connections of Tell Us This would no doubt have demanded why?

The most obvious answer is that there’s no need to make a dangerous job any more dangerous than it already is. Stone-Walsh’s riding was judged improper. The suspicion remains that such actions only become dangerous if someone is put through the rail or hits the ground, by which time who cares what the label is.

No one can know for certain if Benji’s Benefit would have won without the interference. But neither can anyone know for sure that he wouldn’t have. What is sure is that any chance he had vanished through no fault of his own. There’s little doubt Familiar Dreams would have beaten Mozzie’s Secret in a straight-line race. But turning a blind eye to such circumstances isn’t effective regulation.

Circumspect interpretation of the rules throws up unsatisfactory outcomes far too often. Consistently giving the benefit of the doubt to the transgressor only encourages a win-at-all-costs mentality that produces the sort of hanging accidentally on purpose which is only ever a clipped heel away from potential disaster.

Part of regulation’s role is to act as a deterrent. That should include penalising the horse as well as the rider. The counter argument about not impacting the owner and trainer only goes so far. But if that remains the case then it is incumbent on authority to provide a meaningful behaviour brake by favouring the fouled more. Otherwise, it’s all just going round in circles.

Something for the weekend

Four of the runners in today’s Chester Cup are Irish-trained including Dermot Weld’s 2021 winner Falcon Eight. A value option though could be the ex-Weld trained EMIYN (3.40) who blew his chance at the start a year ago, is a proven course and distance winner, and sports a first-time visor.

Despite doing plenty wrong, SALAMANCA (3.00) just failed on his return to action at Newmarket earlier this month. The step up to a mile and a half should suit the son of Sea The Stars in Saturday’s Lingfield Derby Trial.