IHRB unreservedly apologises for shambolic scenes at Naas

The matter was referred to chief executive Denis Egan for further investigation

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has unreservedly apologised for the shambolic scenes at the start of a hugely controversial race at Naas on Sunday.

After one of the runners for a handicap hurdle ducked and unseated his rider, and badly impeded two other horses, including the eventual runner up, Aarons Day, the starter still let the field go.

The failure to call a false start, or to declare two of the runners left at the start as non-runners, led to a torrent of criticism towards the IHRB. So too did the decision by the Naas stewards to call the ‘winner all-right’ apparently before they held an enquiry into the start.

The matter was referred to the IHRB's chief executive Denis Egan for further investigation and a lengthy report emerged on Thursday evening.

In it a catalogue of failures are outlined, including acknowledgement that the 'winner alright' announcement - which signals that bet can be paid out - was an error. The report also says that the starter, Derek Cullen, acknowledges that a false start should have been called.

It outlines a series of recommendations for the future including that if a starter has any doubt about the fairness of a start they must call a false start.

“The IHRB unreservedly apologise to everyone that was affected by this unfortunate incident. An error at the start was compounded by errors made post-race.

“While it is accepted that human errors will occur from time to time, systems are in place to minimise the chances of such errors occurring, and to address them if they happen.

“The systems did not work on this occasion and we commit to taking the necessary steps to avoid anything similar happening in future,” Denis Egan said.

“I have apologised to the trainers of the three affected horses (Edward O’Grady, Oliver McKiernan and Rodger Sweeney) and they have acknowledged that what arose was due to human error.

“The Stewarding Committee will continue to monitor significant decisions, including what occurred in this instance and provide feedback to stewards and officials to ensure consistency and the highest standards of stewarding,” he added.

The report details a number of embarrassing mistakes which will only add to growing pressure on an increasingly beleaguered regulatory service.

A total of eight IHRB officials were interviewed as part of Egan’s investigations since the weekend.

They included Derek Cullen and the chairperson of the Naas stewards, Mary Cosgrave, daughter of the former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave.

The report points to how the race was running significantly late after a loose horse proved difficult to catch.

While the horse was running loose it was decided in the interests of safety to release the starting tape to allow for more room for the horses to walk around at the start.

Once the horse was caught, the starter decided that the tape would be released manually by the starter’s assistant at ground level rather than connecting it to his starting mechanism.

“This is a common occurrence following a false start and it was decided in the interests of expediency to start the race in this way. This meant that the Starter’s Assistant would release the tape when the starter dropped his flag to indicate the start of the race,” the report says.

The time from the starter raising his flag to the tape being released by his assistant was just short of three seconds.

The report accepts that once the starter realised there was a problem there was sufficient time for him to signal to the advance flagman to raise his white flag and call a false start.

It describes the failure to do as an “opportunity missed.”

It also revealed that the system for recording all interactions between the starter and riders was disconnected due to the horse getting loose for an extended period before the race.

The system was “inadvertently not reconnected” once the loose horse had been caught. It meant the only evidence available was the witness accounts and video evidence.

A breakdown in systems also occurred after the race when the stewards initially reviewed an interference incident that occurred during the race.

Having concluded it wouldn’t involve any change in placings the stewards allowed the ‘winner all-right’ to be called.

“This was an error as the enquiry into the incidents at the start had not commenced,” the report acknowledges. “This represented an unfortunate breakdown in the post-race systems used by the IHRB.”

It also acknowledges: “The acting stewards should have called a stewards enquiry as soon as it was apparent that there may be a problem at the start which had the potential to affect the race result.

“There were a number of missed opportunities to make this announcement.”

Had the ‘winner all-right’ not been called the stewards had three options open to them, the report declares.

They could have deemed a fair start had been effected and signalled the ‘winner-all-right’. The two horses left at the start could have been declared non-runners. Or the start could have been deemed manifestly unfair and the race declared void.

However the stewards were unable to reach a decision as the ‘winner-all-right’ had already been given. So, the investigation concludes, the only remaining option open to them was to refer the matter to the CEO of the IHRB.

That however was too late for those who backed the two horses left at the start, Shakeytry and Sean Says, as well as those who backed Aarons Day to win.

The jockeys of those three horses, Philip Enright, Kevin Brouder and Liam McKenna, were all interviewed as part of the investigation.

McKenna told Denis Egan he believed a false start would be called because Enright had been unseated before the tape released. When he realised that this was not happening, he took off after the other runners having lost considerable ground.

In his report, Egan also outlines a number of procedural recommendations in relation to how enquiries are carried out in future.

They include how races should only be cleared by the stewards, and the ‘winner all-right’ announced, when all enquiries relating to anything that might affect the result have been concluded.

All stewards should approve the announcement of ‘winner all-right’ before clearance is given and the clerk of the scales’ assistant will state clearly on entering the stewards room that they are seeking authorisation to signal the ‘winner all-right.’