The British Horseracing Authority has responded to criticism of its “stop race” procedures in the wake of the chaotic scenes surrounding the London National at Sandown on Saturday, insisting that yellow is the best colour for flags warning jockeys to stop racing and that the entry-point penalty of a 10-day ban for failing to stop is appropriate given “the risk to human and equine life should a [subsequent] collision take place”.
Dan Skelton, whose brother Harry is one of the seven jockeys facing Christmas on the sidelines, was one of several trainers to criticise the procedures on Saturday, saying that it “is completely inadequate to have just one flag out there”. Neil Mulholland, whose horse Doing Fine was first past the post in the void race, said that the process “is just not good enough in this day and age”.
While the BHA offered no comment on the specifics of the Sandown case ahead of an appeal by seven jockeys who received 10-day bans as a result, the Authority said in a blog posted to its website on Tuesday afternoon that it had been “surprised by some of the comment since the incident”. It also singled out an article in Tuesday’s Racing Post by journalist David Jennings, which it claimed “is based on a misunderstanding of the serious risks involved and how the sport’s rules are designed to deter behaviour that might add to the risk”.
In response to a number of suggestions that a red flag could be more visible than the current yellow, the BHA’s blog said that this option “has been rejected in the past because one in 12 males and one in 200 females are colour blind with red/green colour blindness being the most common”. It added: “Luminous yellow flags are visible in all conditions and designed to be consistent with the flags waved by starters and advanced flag operators. Wherever you are on a course, a yellow flag being raised or waved means “don’t race”.
The Authority also describes as “irresponsible” a suggestion that pulling up for a yellow could be “a risk not worth taking”. This, it said, “does not consider the more pertinent and serious scenario of a jockey continuing to ride and then colliding with a horse or human receiving treatment. This is the risk that is not worth taking and this is what the stop race procedures are designed to prevent.”
The decision to stop Saturday’s race was taken after Houblon Des Obeaux suffered a fatal heart attack on the first circuit and collapsed on the racing line. Two of the jockeys on the nine remaining runners after another circuit obeyed the yellow flag but seven continued around the third-last fence and then also raced around a tarpaulin covering Houblon Des Obeaux’s body.
The seven riders’ appeals against their 10-day bans for continuing to race are expected to be heard next Tuesday. If the bans are upheld, Skelton, Adam Wedge, Daryl Jacob, James Davies, Jamie Moore, Stan Sheppard and Philip Donovan will all miss the busy and lucrative Christmas programme, when demand for jockeys is at a premium.
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