If you’d tuned into ITV Racing on Saturday to watch the London National then you’d have seen something of a calamity unfurl. Houblon Des Obeaux had suffered a heart attack on the first circuit of the race, leading to staff going onto the course in order to attend to the horse. This in turn led to course officials waving the yellow ‘Stop-Race’ flags, only for jockeys to pay no attention to it.
Now commentators and others are asking why on earth the flags are yellow, when, as Simon Holt has said, “in everybody’s language the colour for stop is red”. Holt and his fellow commentator Richard Hoiles are calling for the colour of the flag to be changed in order to to avoid such a circumstance happening again in the future. Seven jockeys are appealing ten day bans that they’ve been issued as a result of ignoring the flags on Saturday.
What Happened At Sandown?
The London National, which is the final race at Sandown at the meeting, was interrupted when veteran horse Houblon Des Obeaux was left stricken. The horse’s trainer, Venetia Williams, later confirmed that it had had a fatal heart attack, but at the time all that the race organisers knew was that the horse had fallen and needed attending to. They duly entered the course to treat the runner, leading to the yellow Stop-Race flags being waved at the remaining jockeys.
Seven of them failed to stop racing, with confusion reigning at the Surrey course. The waving of a yellow flag in a race means that riders should stop racing, but some believe that the flag was not waved vociferously enough and that it was pointed in a manner that was confusing to jockeys. It appeared to suggest that they should simply bypass the fence rather than stop altogether, so many of the jockeys did just that. That was also how Holt interpreted it from his commentary position, even though he knows ‘full well’ that a yellow flag means stop racing.
How The Jockeys Will Be Punished
The British Horseracing Authority made a statement after the event saying that the race stewards that were in operation on the day felt that ‘procedures were deployed adequately’ and that the riders had plenty of opportunity to see the flags, hear the whistles and realise that they were supposed to stop. The fact that two riders did pull up also seems to back up this theory. It is therefore felt by the BHA that the seven riders that didn’t stop were ‘in breach of the rules’.
The Chief Steward at Sandown, Chris Rutter, backs up this take from the BHA. He said that the yellow flag was put in place because a horse was stricken on the bend into the home straight. He said:
“There were seven jockeys who continued in the race. The stop-race flag was just to the left of them and they appear to have bypassed it and bypassed the Pond fence and just carried on up the home straight. For that reason, all the jockeys who continued in the race were given a 10-day suspension”.
Whilst Rutter did admit that there was ‘some confusion’ over the issue as the jockeys claim that they didn’t see the flag, he also pointed out that footage of the race ‘clearly shows that the flag was there’. He also says that the jockeys appeared to stop and then start back up racing again, leading to his opinion that they knew they should have stopped. He said:
“It’s either 10 days or nothing and because it looks like they’ve seen the flag and they’ve ignored it, they’ve all got 10 days”.
What Punters At The Course Thought
Those at Sandown were none the wiser. Many of the punters there celebrated when Doing Fine, which was trained by Neil Mulholland, crossed the finish line first as they thought that the Philip Donovan ridden horse had won the race and began to head to the bookmakers to collect their winnings. It would have been the biggest win of Donovan’s career, but a lengthy stewards’ enquiry followed to try to ascertain exactly what had gone on.
The length of the stewards’ enquiry certainly didn’t help the confusion being experience on the course. None of the jockeys, owners, trainers or bettors seemed to have a clue what was going on and it wasn’t communicated particularly well by the course runners. In the end, however, the race was indeed declared void and all bets were refunded.
What It Means For The Jockeys
The seven jockeys that were guilty of ignoring the yellow flag were as follows:
- Philip Donovan
- Daryl Jacob
- Harry Skelton
- Adam Wedge
- Jamie Moore
- James Davies
- Stan Sheppard
They are now able to appeal the ten day ban that they’ve been given and it will be heard by an independent panel. If they lose that appeal, however, then they’ll miss out on one of the most lucrative periods of racing that occurs over the Christmas break.
Jamie Moore said afterwards that he didn’t see the flag as head was down, though he did hear whistles. He said, “My kids are having a lump of coal for Christmas now, although they might get a cheap Arsenal shirt. Fontwell at Boxing Day is usually a good day for me”.
What Alternative Changes Could Be Introduced?
Both Simon Holt and Richard Hoiles firmly believe that the Stop-Race flag should be changed to red, given that that is the internationally accepted colour of danger. Holt said:
“Yellow, like an amber traffic light, means be wary, so I just don’t understand why it was yellow in the first place. It should be a bright red flag – that would certainly help”.
Holt is one of ITV Racing’s commentators and said that other sports have a flagging system that is easier to understand. The obvious comparison is with another form of racing, Formula 1. He said:
“For the lay viewer, racing’s flags are a bit bizarre. In Formula One the yellow flag means slow down, hazard, no overtaking, while the chequered flag means end, and a red flag is for stop”.
Moore also feels that more can be done to make it obvious to the riders that the race is being stopped. He said:
“If you want to stop a race you should have blocked off where we go. If no one had said anything and let the race go, no one would have cared”.
Whether that would be possible in the short space of time that race stewards have to react to such a situation isn’t exactly clear, but it would certainly make it far more obvious to the participants that the race was being stopped.