Cheltenham – Riding legend Sir Anthony McCoy has condemned a decision to hit amateur jockey Declan Lavery with a 10-day ban for not pulling up third home Jerrysback in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.
Lavery, Noel McParlan and Rob James were slapped with bans totalling 37 days following Tuesday’s race, with Mulcahys Hill and Just Your Type, the respective mounts of McParlan and James, falling at the second-last and last. An inquiry involving Damien Skehan, rider of fourth-placed Clondaw Cian, is still pending.
In an attritional edition of the 4800m race, which is restricted to amateur riders, only four of the 18 starters completed the course and Ballyward was fatally injured when he fell with a circuit to go.
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson had earlier hit out at the British Horseracing Authority’s handling of the matter, and McCoy, speaking on ITV Racing, was seething at what he agreed was a heavy-handed approach taken on the basis of welfare concerns and suggested that it is the BHA that is bringing racing into disrepute.
“I’m embarrassed for the BHA,” said McCoy. “Talk about bringing racing into disrepute. I never thought at any stage [Lavery] did a thing wrong. Talk about welfare; the horse was perfectly fine this morning. His welfare isn’t an issue.
“I haven’t seen as bad a decision in 25 years coming to Cheltenham. Imagine Eachway punters who’d backed him, if he’d pulled up or if the other two had fallen and he’d pulled up. It’s indefensible, a disgrace.”
McCoy questioned BHA chief regulatory office Brant Dunshea’s expertise in jump racing.
“You can’t have jump racing if you don’t accept fallers,” he said. “I’m all for welfare and been coming to Cheltenham for 25 years. Brant Dunshea of the BHA is Australian. I don’t know what experience he’s got of jump racing. They don’t have jump racing in Australia and they are letting people like that make decisions.”
BHA CEO Nick Rust responded that it was unfair to single out Dunshea.
“We’ve a set of rules linked to welfare of horses and it’s important we administer those,” he said.
“I heard Sir Anthony say Brant Dunshea had taken this decision. To be clear, there was a panel of stewards led by George Welch, who was an amateur rider and has been a steward for a long time. The other stewards, Adrian Sharpe and Simon Cowley, are ex-jump jockeys.
“They took a strong view about what they saw. I don’t think any of us wanted to see the race pan out in the way it did, and I can understand why the stewards took their decisions.”
Asked if the BHA is adopting an unnecessarily stringent welfare policy, Rust responded: “We have to have sensible regulation but have to balance it with ensuring British racing keeps control of its own sport. We cannot isolate it against views and perceptions of the general public.
“Where we feel there’s avoidable risk, we need to take action to ensure we drive fatality numbers down.
“We were put a little bit on watch after the parliamentary debate in November and can’t take things for granted. You’ll never remove risk but we’re doing all we can for our horses and people.
“Over the years there’s a finer line between the elements of the rules where we’re asking a rider to finish in the best possible place and at the same time look after the horse’s welfare.
“Professional jockeys have moved on a hell of a lot in the last five years. They know how important it is and are acutely aware what they do now in a race has the eyes of the world on it.”
The National Hunt Chase, first run in 1860, is the longest-established festival race, but events on Tuesday appear to have put its existence into doubt, and it will again come under close scrutiny during the post-festival review.
“Amateur riders have a key part to play in our sport,” Rust said when asked if the race was in danger of being lost.
“We’ll review everything and identify if there’s some risk we’re not managing. We have to keep changing and moving.” – www.racingpost.com