Fiasco as race is run over wrong distance

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The Independent Online

Another classic racecourse, another classic cock-up. Three weeks after the fiasco in a sprint handicap at Epsom, when several stalls opened late yet the result of the race was somehow allowed to stand, Doncaster yesterday staged the strange case of the missing 110 yards.

Another classic racecourse, another classic cock-up. Three weeks after the fiasco in a sprint handicap at Epsom, when several stalls opened late yet the result of the race was somehow allowed to stand, Doncaster yesterday staged the strange case of the missing 110 yards.

When Fly Gold Air won the fillies' nursery, the second race on the card, by half a length, she seemed at first sight to have broken the course record for the trip by an extraordinary eight seconds. Twenty minutes after the riders had weighed in an explanation emerged. The race, which had allegedly been run over six and a half furlongs, had in fact been run over six.

Had the mistake been discovered before the weigh-in, the race would inevitably have been declared void since all the horses failed to run over the correct course. Since the weighed-in signal had been given, though, the result of the race stood for betting purposes, and everyone who had backed the 14-1 chance was duly paid out. Punters on Reefs Sis and Consensus, who dead-heated for second place a length further back, were left to wonder whether another half a furlong would have made a difference.

The stewards held an inquiry which revealed how the error had occurred. The man responsible for placing the stalls, Ted Jackson, an employee of RaceTech, had followed an arrow on a small diagram in the official racecard.

"He took it to be the start [for that race]," Anthony Gillam, the stewards' secretary, said, "because the arrow is on the third start down, after five and five-and-a-half, but this is purely a guide for the public. The six-and-a-half furlong start is not even on the racecard."

The starter, who must take ultimate responsibility, failed to notice the mistake, even though at least one jockey, who preferred to remain anonymous, had his suspicions. "I could almost touch the six-furlong start from where I was," he said, "but I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure my filly would get the extra distance."

A report on the incident will be sent to Portman Square, where the race will surely be declared void. In theory, this would deprive the winning connections of £16,000 prize-money, although those responsible may feel obliged to cover the cost themselves. "If we were to lose it, I certainly wouldn't lie down," Brian Meehan, the winner's trainer, said. "I'd have to stand up and fight. As far as I'm concerned, they've weighed-in and she's a winner."

There was no arguing with the result of the Portland Handicap, as the front-running Smokin Beau burst from the stalls, tacked over to the stands side and held off all challenges. The winner, who is owned by a syndicate of 350, may now run in the Ayr Gold Cup a week on Saturday, for which he is a 10-1 chance (from 25-1) with Coral, but only if the going stays sound. The Rous Stakes, a Listed event at Newmarket in October, is an alternative target.

Smokin Beau picked up £30,000, or about £100 each, for his delighted owners, many of whom crammed into the winners' enclosure. "Everyone keeps writing this horse off, saying he's too high in the handicap," John Cullinan, the gelding's trainer, said. "He's won £100,000 this year, and not many horses do that in handicaps."

That total, compiled in a dozen races, looked a little meagre half an hour later when Acclamation sailed past it in little more than 60 seconds. The two-year-old, trained by Gerald Cottrell, won the £151,800 first prize in the St Leger yearling Stakes, a race restricted to horses bought at the Doncaster Sales, where he was bought last year for 33,000gns.

The day's only Pattern race, the Park Hill Stakes, was won by Ranin, although Masilia, who was backed down to 9-4 favourite, might have gone close with more luck in running.

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