Nothing causes more confusion on racecourses than the signalling to jockeys of a need to avoid a jump when there is an obstacle on the landing side. Yesterday, six jockeys, including the season's leading rider, Tony McCoy, and Mick Fitzgerald received seven-day suspensions from the stewards when their failure to follow the instructions for such an eventuality resulted in the customary chaos.
The race that will cost McCoy and Fitzgerald rides in some important events was a modest selling hurdle, the least valuable race on any of yesterday's three cards.
The final flight was dolled off so that medics could care for the temporarily stricken jockey Michael Clarke, the rider of Assembly Dancer who fell on the first circuit of the track.
Ground staff waved the field to the left of the flight, but six riders, including McCoy on the first past the post, Little Hooligan, ignored the gestures and steered to the right of the hurdle. Jamie Osborne, showing the sort of confidence one should expect from such an experienced rider, elected to run to the left of the hurdle on the fifth home, Safe Secret. Three other runners, who were out of contention, followed him.
At the inevitable inquiry, the stewards found that the six riders who had steered to the right of the hurdle had taken the wrong course and banned them for seven days (18-25 Nov). The race was awarded to Safe Secret, while Faez, Coochie and Lorcanjo, originally the last three home, were promoted to second, third and fourth.
Explaining the lengthy suspensions, the stewards' secretary, William Nunneley, said: "The stewards took a very strong view about this case as there are clear instructions about staying to the left of a hurdle in these circumstances posted in the weighing room.
"They decided to give them seven days as they very nearly mowed down ambulance men and ground staff. The stewards felt they were all equally culpable and took it very seriously."
The six banned jockeys, who besides McCoy and Fitzgerald are Mark Richards, the conditional riders Guy Lewis and Tom Dascombe and the amateur Emily Jones, will miss major meetings at Ascot, Aintree, Cheltenham, Huntingdon and Newbury's Hennessy meeting.
Among the big-race mounts McCoy will miss are Straight Talk in Aintree's Becher Chase, while Fitzgerald will miss the ride on Travado in Huntingdon's Peterborough Chase.
"It's ridiculous," McCoy said. "The flagmen were just waving the flags and they didn't know which way they were pointing them. I'll talk to my agent, Dave Roberts, to see if I appeal against the severity of the ban." Fitzgerald would say only: "If I said what I thought you wouldn't be able to print it."
But Osborne was all smiles, saying: "I had no doubts I was right, it plainly says in the weighing room that you have got to go to the left when a hurdle is dolled off. There was another incident at the beginning of the season and we all went left on that occasion."
Roy Brotherton, the trainer of Safe Secret, said: "When I saw the filly disappear I wondered where the hell Jamie had gone, but fair play to him, he got it absolutely right."
Little Hooligan's handler, Gordon Edwards, was philosophical. "Rules are rules and in this case it seems the stewards had little option but to disqualify my horse."