Irish Jockeys Association say Cheltenham penalties are ‘illogical’
Declan Lavery suspended for 10 days over ride on Jerrysback due to welfare rules
The final race of the opening day at Cheltenham saw a number of riding bans handed out. Photgraph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The British Horseracing Authority has come under heavy fire for the penalties it imposed on three amateur jockeys after Tuesday’s controversial four-mile National Hunt Chase.
The Irish trio of Declan Lavery, Rob James and Noel McParlan collected 37 days between them for not pulling up in the race and incorrect use of the whip.
Lavery finished third of the four finishers on Jerrysback in the marathon contest but was suspended for ten for continuing in the race when, according to officials, it appeared to be contrary to the horse’s welfare after “tired jumping errors at the final two fences.”
On Wednesday the former 20 times champion jockey AP McCoy expressed outrage at the bans and said he was “embarrassed for the BHA.”
Speaking his role as an ITV pundit, he said: “I’m coming to Cheltenham for 25 years and I have not seen as bad a decision.”
McCoy insisted Lavery had done nothing wrong, reported that Jerrysback was perfectly fine afterwards, and added: “Imagine punters if that lad had pulled up?”
His comments were endorsed by a number of other leading professionals, including former champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
“Spot on. I and many other professionals are becoming more and more embarrassed by some of the decisions,” Nicholls tweeted.
Another top trainer, Donald McCain, also tweeted: “Good on (McCoy) for his words on yesterday’s decision in the four mile. Hopefully more people will stand up like that for our sport.”
James was in fourth place in Tuesday’s race when his mount Just Your Type fell at the last fence. He got a seven day ban for his use of the whip and another 12 days for continuing in the race “when it appeared to be contrary to the horse’s welfare.”
McParlan fell at the second last on Mulcahys Hill and was suspended for eight days for the same offence.
The BHA has come under increased pressure in recent month over animal welfare concerns. It has implemented a series of measures for this week’s Festival on the back of a review of last year’s meeting which saw half a dozen horses suffer fatal injuries.
All jockeys riding at Cheltenham this week have been briefed by the stewards on their responsibilities in relation to animal welfare and reminded that they are under public scrutiny.
A BHA statement after Tuesday’s race suggested the future of the four mile race could be in jeopardy and said “amateur participation in its current form at future festivals will be under material threat should further incidents occur.”
The secretary of the Irish Jockeys Association Andrew Coonan has described the BHA stance as “illogical.” He also expressed concern at potentially similar penalties being imposed on professional riders in future and the precedent they set.
“They’re saying to jockeys do your very best, which includes obtaining your best possible place. Then they’re saying you did that, but now we also want to penalise you because you didn’t take the animal’s welfare into account. How do you square that circle?” Andrew Coonan asked on Wednesday.
“Not only is it a very difficult ask but it’s an ask you’re asking a jockey to answer in seconds.
“The reality is for Declan Lavery he’s going to the last at Cheltenham, although it could be any track, and he’s got an owner and a trainer who’ve got this horse in the best shape they can to run the best race he can, and he’s got a chance of finishing in the prizemoney.
“He knows there are punters who want him to do his very best on the horse, even though he knows the horse is tired. How is a jockey to answer those two questions in a matter of seconds. It’s an impossibility,” he added.
The IJA represents professional riders and Coonan expressed deep unease at the implications of the BHA penalties in future.
“At what point do we take this to the next step, in that someone’s coming down to the last in front on a tired horse. Is he supposed to say there’s a welfare issue here – do I pull him up? That’s the obvious next question.
“There’s a 10 day ban for finishing third but do you not get a ban if you’re potentially going to win? Or are they going to say to a jockey who’s won on a tired horse that you should have pulled up?
“What’s the difference between finishing third and you should have pulled up, and finishing first and you should have pulled up?
“If you follow their logic, which is illogical, that is the next thing that will happen. We will see a situation where someone has to make a decision going to the last and has to decide if they’ll jump it or pull up.
“And how can you ask a jockey to make such a split second decision in the heat of battle and then punish him?” he asked.