There is nothing better than watching a horse race and seeing the back and forth between rival jockeys as they hustle each other for the chance to win the race. It can be exhilarating to be caught up in the excitement, seeing the race leader switch from one minute to the next. You can stay with them for the duration of the event, cheering when one of them finishes the line before the other only to later find out it was disqualified.
There are actually a whole host of reasons why a horse might be disqualified from a race, which extend beyond the reasons a bookmaker might use not to pay out on a winning bet. Indeed, this article is about the actual reasons rather than betting rules (which you can find here). It’s just as well really, considering the complicated nature of the way in which bets are changed thanks to a disqualification. Instead, we’ll focus on the various reasons a horse can be disqualified.
When Disqualifications Can Be Announced
The first thing to point out is that disqualifications from a horse race can happen during two moments:
- After the race has finished and the payout of bets has started because the result has been declared official
- After the race has finished but before the result has been declared official and therefore before bets have been paid out on
It might seem like an obvious thing to point out, but it is an important distinction. Whilst we said this page wasn’t about betting, the disqualification of a horse and when it is announced matters to the world of betting more than anything else. The vast majority of bookmakers say that they go with the official result of a race, so they will pay out if a horse is declared the winner officially (but some of the better sites will pay out on both the race winner and official race winner).
If, however, a horse is then disqualified after the official result is declared then the bookmaker obviously can’t ask for their money back. Instead, in most instances they’ll refuse to pay out on the horse that was later declared the winner. Bookies aren’t stupid, so they will not be paying anything out until the official race result is confirmed, thanks to the fact that any immediate queries will have been dealt with.
One example of this happened to Ian Brown, who had an accumulator bet on seven races during the Cheltenham Festival. Six of his selections in his Acca came in, with Mr Brown needing a result from Josies Orders so as to win £700,000. Instead, the horse came second and lost out to Any Currency. When Any Currency was later disqualified for a banned substance in its urine, Mr Brown got nothing.
Who Decides On A Horse Should Be Disqualified?
There are two main reasons that an investigation into a race might take place:
- One of the Race Stewards spots something
- One or more of the jockeys makes a complaint
The perfect example of the latter occurred during the famous Kentucky Derby in the United States of America in 2019. Maximum Security won the race, but two jockeys went to the authorities in order to complain about interference during the race. After a thirty minute investigation, Race Stewards agreed with the complainants and disqualified Maximum Security from the race, resulting in 65/1 shot Country House being declared the winner.
No horse had ever lost the Kentucky Derby after being declared the winner until it happened to Maximum Security, who had led for the entire race. For punters watching the race pan out, the moment that got the horse disqualified seemed innocuous enough. He stumbled to his right, forcing a change of path for War Of Will, Long Range Toddy and Country House, with the former two eventually enduing up at the back of the field.
Country House, however, finished second and his jockey made a complaint about the interference. Despite the track being wet, the moment of interference being a fleeting one and the race being a rough and tumble one in general, the decision to disqualify Maximum Security was upheld. Even the President of the United States, Donald Trump, found himself angry Tweeting about the matter.
Sometimes it is not jockeys who approach Race Stewards with a complaint but rather the Stewards themselves that spot something untoward happening. It is something that can sometimes cause controversy, such as on New Year’s Day 2020 when a Steward’s Enquiry resulted in the horses in first and second place of a race at Cheltenham being switched, whilst no inquiry was called for a near-identical event at Musselburgh.
Main Reasons For Disqualifications
There are a number of different reasons why a horse might end up being disqualified from a race, so we’ll have a look at them here.
As you might well have guessed, interference is the number one reason for a horse to be disqualified from a race. In the case of the two races on New Year’s Day 2020, the race at Musselburgh didn’t involve a Steward’s Inquiry as it was felt that the winning horse was already too far clear of second place in the “Auld Reekie” Handicap Chase for it to have made a difference.
In the Listed race of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, however, Protektorat only finished a head in front of Imperial Alcazar and it was felt that the latter horse might well have won the race if not for the interference. As the British Horseracing Authority phrased it,
“When determining the result of a race following interference, the stewards must decide whether the sufferer would have beaten the interferer but for the interference.”
Stewards work to one general rule when they’re considering whether a horse should be disqualified for interference or not, which is this: did the actions of a horse during a race effect the ability of another horse to finish within the places? If the answer to this is ‘no’ then it’s extremely unlikely that a horse will be disqualified for the reason of interference. There could, of course, be other reasons for a disqualification.
One of the reasons that a horse may be disqualified from a race and stripped of its win a long time after the event is for failing a drugs test. In the example of Ian Brown’s accumulator bet that would have netted him more than £700,000, the original winner, Any Currency, wasn’t disqualified from the race until around five months after its conclusion. It’s little wonder, then, that bookmakers refuse to pay out after such a length of time.
Samples of things like blood and urine are taken from horses, which take a decent amount of time to test. In the case of Any Currency, traces of Triamcinolone Acetonide were found in its urine. The substance is a perfectly acceptable one to treat horses with, but the rules say that it must have cleared the animal’s system by the day of the race in order to not fall foul of the drugs test.
Obviously some drugs are illegal to use, with the Triamcinolone Acetonide example just being used demonstratively to show how easy it can be for a trainer or owner to not realise that they’ve done something wrong. Regardless of the circumstance, if an illegal substance is found in the blood or urine of a horse after a race has been completed then they will be disqualified after the fact.
Horses don’t feel self-conscious, so the idea of them being down because of a weight problem is obviously a nonsense. Yet issues with weight can lead to the disqualification of a horse from a race if the weigh-out and the weigh-in amounts aren’t acceptable. Weights that must be carried by a horse are decided according to the conditions of the event that they’re taking part in, so the weighing is a crucial part of the race.
Because horses have to carry certain amounts of weight, the jockeys themselves are weighed before the race and after it is over. If they’re lighter than they should be then the horse will carry an additional cloth with weights in. The saddle that the jockey will ride is in also weighed at the same time that they are, which is then handed to a trainer or assistant to put on the horse in order for the jockey to mount it.
When the race is over, the jockey will be weighed again. The first weighing is known as the weigh-out and the second as the weigh-in. The second one is to ensure that they carried the right weights during the race. If you’re on a course you’ll often hear the announcer declare ‘weighed-in, weighed-in’ when the weighing process is complete after a race has been run.
If there is a huge discrepancy between the weight before the race and the weight after it then that can lead to a horse being disqualified. It is obviously easy for a horse to carry less weight, with trainers preferring the jockeys to be close to the assigned weight as adding weight to the horse makes it difficult to carry. Trying to trick a Steward over the weight is an illegal action from a jockey or trainer.
Being In The Wrong Race Or Not Permitted To Ride
It’s fair to say that this is a far less common reason for a horse to be disqualified in this day and age. The use of the likes of mobile phones, television reporting and technology in general means that it’s virtually impossible for a horse to take part in the wrong race. Even so, it has been known to happen from time to time and when it does, it makes complete sense that the horse will be disqualified from the race.
Fitting into the same bracket as this is the idea of the jockey not being permitted to take part in the race under the Rules that are in play. It’s possible that a jockey could hold the wrong licence, for example. This is more likely to happen in the case of overseas riders, who won’t necessarily know that there are races that their licence doesn’t give them permission to take part in in the United Kingdom.
Running With A Different Name
Owners are expecting to give a horse a name and to register that name with the relevant authorities. If a horse should happen to take part in a race using a different name to the one that the owner specified then this can also lead to a disqualification. This is mainly due to the possible of planning to run one horse but actually running a different one, which has more chance of actually winning the race.
Again, this isn’t exactly one of the most common reasons for a horse to be disqualified. Instead, it’s an example of an owner intentionally trying to trick the horse racing authorities in order to win him or her self some money. In the case of this being done intentionally and fraudulently, the guilty party is likely to suffer a punishment worse than simple seeing their horse disqualified from the race, including the loss of their licence.
What To Bear In Mind
The main thing to think about when it comes to horses and disqualifications is that the horse racing authorities have no real desire to disqualify a horse unless it is totally necessary to do so. It’s also extremely unlikely that a horse will be disqualified in a manner that is a complete shock to the owner, trainer and jockey involved. After all, there are specific rules and regulations in place for exactly this subject.
In the case of a horse being disqualified for something like interference, it is always likely to be a controversial topic. The reality is that it is something of a subjective thing in horse racing, so what one person might see as an example of interference can be easily dismissed by another person. Ultimately, the final decision is up to the Race Stewards, who work on behalf of the British Horseracing Authority.