Jockey Club tries again to pass the stalls test

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The Independent Online

It has taken them 30 years to recognise the fact, but yesterday the Jockey Club came to terms with the realisation that the starting stalls used at the 35 courses which stage Flat racing are actually rubbish. They are to go (the stalls that is). At the same time there will be an increase in the number of stalls handlers and inquiries introduced whenever a race is more than three minutes late off.

These were the main planks in announcements yesterday which, according to the Jockey Club, "were under consideration prior to the late opening of some stalls in a race at Epsom on the August Bank Holiday. That incident served to highlight the existing problems which these recommendations aim to tackle and solve."

This, of course, is nonsense. Epsom served to highlight that some stewards are about as useful as the stalls which are about to be put through the crusher. Any race in which the stalls malfunction has to be a void race. The stewards at Epsom themselves malfunctioned when they failed to recognise this blazingly obvious fact.

They said at the time that Frankie Dettori told them the premature release of some horses made no difference to the result and they believed what he had to say without dispute. Which must mean that Dettori will never get another riding ban for as long as he rides in this country.

Britain possesses the shortest starting boxes in the world. "This results in many horses becoming uncomfortable in the stalls during the loading process," deduces the Jockey Club report.

The figures show that horses causing a problem at the start continue to be on the increase. To combat this trend there will be more stall handlers around. In fields of up to 20 there are currently four leaders, four pushers and a team leader.

Soon the number of leaders will be increased to six and even more staff will be made available for fields of over 20 runners. As a 14-bay unit of stalls costs around £40,000, the bare coverage nationally will be over £2.5m.

In addition, stewards will, in the near future, inquire into any race which is more than three minutes late. Jockeys and trainers seem certain to come under the microscope here as the largest single reason for tardy races is a late arrival at the start.

Another racecourse official, Hugh Barclay, a starter, is to escape financial punishment despite his admission that he was culpable for the wrong-start débâcle at Doncaster last week. Barclay has shouldered the blame for not spotting that the stalls had been placed at the six-furlong start for the EBF Carrie Red Nursery. They should have been 110 yards further back.

An official inquiry is to take place, but employment law means that Barclay cannot be fined. "Unlike dealing with licensed participants, for whom disciplinary measures are contained within the Rules of Racing, the Jockey Club is constrained by employment law with regard to its own officials, as happens in any employee-employer relationship," John Maxse, spokesman for the Jockey Club, said.

The winds that whipped across the country yesterday were in no small means helped on their way by sighs of relief from Britain's trainers. It has been confirmed that Aidan O'Brien will not have a single runner at tomorrow's influential Newbury meeting despite some glossy entries.

It had been suggested that O'Brien might be giving a racecourse debut to Tasmanian Tiger, the most expensive yearling sold at auction last year, at $6.8m, or to Black Sam Bellamy, a full brother to the dual Derby winner Galileo.

Sorcerous, who cost two million guineas at the Houghton Sales at Newmarket a year ago, was also among the considerations. However, this trio, along with several other Ballydoyle entries, will not be going into the stalls.

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