Turf Club impose four-day suspension on Davy Russell
Furore over split-second punch to neck of Kings Dolly at Tramore may finally be over
Davy Russell: “To me it is completely unacceptable what the press have done, to me and my family.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
After incurring a four-day suspension at an appeals body hearing on Tuesday, Davy Russell declined to comment to reporters and quickly slipped out of the Turf Club with an attitude of what could be fairly construed as “enough said”.
Eighteen days after the split-second punch he delivered to the unruly Kings Dolly before a race at Tramore provoking huge and at times near-hysterical comment across all media, it was perhaps as apt a gesture as the sorry episode has seen.
Russell’s ban won’t begin for 14 days, which is normal practise, and the former champion jockey is free to ride at next week’s Listowel festival after being found in breach of Rule 272(i) which relates to conduct prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of racing.
A three-man panel headed by the former Supreme Court judge Joseph Finnegan imposed the penalty, agreeing with the registrar of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee who’d asked for a review of the “unduly lenient” caution Russell had received at a referrals committee hearing nine days earlier. That decision was widely criticised, including by animal rights groups.
If the matter has been widely characterised as Russell delivering a punch to the horse’s head, after a film clip of the incident was circulated on social media, significantly the appeals body agreed with the rider who argued he had struck Kings Dolly in the neck.
Justice Finnegan said Russell “appeared to strike the horse high on the neck, in the vicinity of the head, and, insofar as we can tell, not in fact on the head”.
However he added “it is a serious matter to strike a horse in the vicinity of the head” and stressed: “It should not in this case, or any case, have occurred.”
Although no exact precedence existed for this case, the panel referred to an incident in July when jockey Shane Foley was suspended for seven days – subsequently reduced on appeal to five – for striking a horse with his whip before a race. They also noted two incidents in the UK which saw jockeys banned for five days for striking horses.
Justice Finnegan said five days would be an appropriate penalty for Russell too but due to the lengthy delay since the incident occurred, and the stress and strain the jockey has endured in the interim period, the panel decided to reduce it by one day.
He described what Russell did as a “serious offence” and he didn’t want to understate or mitigate it.
“The general public, and the racing public, may think it lenient but we are conscious the impact of a four-day suspension has in monetary terms on a jockey,” Justice Finnegan said. “It not just four days, it is four racedays.”
Tuesday’s hearing was the highest and final stage of racing’s disciplinary process and questions will inevitably be asked of the Turf Club as to why it took so long to come to a conclusion.
However there will be debate too on the role of social media and the impact of some of its more regrettable hair-trigger content on racing regulation. Russell’s punch was missed by the raceday stewards at Tramore but quickly generated opprobrium online.
The impact of some of the, at times, grotesquely disproportionate comment was reflected in what Russell said during Tuesday’s hearing. The Gold Cup-winning rider was emotional at times as he outlined the impact of this controversy on him and his family.
He stressed he’d had no anger or malice towards the horse at Tramore and was trying to get Kings Dolly under control and to pay attention.
After a video of the incident was viewed he told the panel: “I know what this looks like. I’m a normal human being. I know what you see. But what the press have seen, and what the press have brought forward, is completely different.
“To me it is completely unacceptable what the press have done, to me and my family. And it is my family at this stage because they’ve been mentioned in articles. I have a wife and children. I have a 13-year-old. She’s in secondary school and she knows what’s going on.
“I’m a father, as well as a horseman, and a normal human being. I’ve put that across to journalists and they’ve paid no regard to it. They’ve kept going and going with something that in my eyes is disgraceful. And it’s obvious to everyone here that’s a lenient way of putting it.”
Certainly it seems safe to assume it is the jockey rather than the horse who has felt the longer-term impact of this.
Kings Dolly’s trainer Roger McGrath, who has backed Russell throughout, confirmed on Tuesday that Kings Dolly has been retired to stud and is “perfect”. He didn’t wish to comment further.
“Plenty people have views,” McGrath said. “I don’t think I’ll add to them.”