Racing: Calamity as judge fails again

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The Independent Online
JUBILATION AND misery often go hand-in-hand on the racetrack, but at least punters can usually be sure of a half-hour gap between mood swings. Not at Newmarket yesterday, when Jane Stickels, the judge, managed to name two different winners in as many minutes.

First, she declared Full Flow to be the winner of a frantic duel with Thady Quill in the Superlative Stakes - a bitter disappointment for supporters of the favourite. An unlikely reprieve was at hand, though. Two minutes later, to an equal chorus of cheers and groans, Stickels announced that she had made a mistake. It was Thady Quill who had nosed home in front.

The only consolation for Stickels in her embarrassment was that a stewards' enquiry had already been called. Bookmakers were awaiting its verdict before paying out. Had the enquiry not been in progress, thousands of pounds could have been paid to the wrong punters.

Compounding the judge's misery was that she has, as they say, got previous. In 1994, at Kempton, Stickels announced a dead-heat between Large Action and Absalom's Lady, but the result was amended to a victory for the latter. There was also controversy after the Prestige Stakes at Goodwood in 1997, when she named Midnight Line as the winner over Alignment when to most eyes, the photograph implied that Alignment deserved a dead-heat at least. Ten days ago, at Lingfield, Stickels changed her mind about a horse she had placed fifth, a mistake which had implications for each-way punters due to a subsequent disqualification.

"It was very difficult because the horses' noses were merging into each other," Stickels said yesterday. "It made it look as if the nearest horse's nose was out when it wasn't. It was in. It was difficult to read and I'm afraid that the first time I got it wrong. I looked at it again, and I thought, oh crikey." Asked how she felt when she realised she had announced the wrong result, Stickels said "ghastly", (the same as Full Flow's backers 10 seconds later).

When a copy of the print appeared, Barry Hills, Full Flow's trainer, was among the first people to study it, and he conceded that his runner had finished second. He seemed bemused, though, that the confusion could have arisen in the first place. Since one horse's nose was clearly in front of the other, it should not have been too difficult to work backwards from there and discover which number cloth it was attached to.

The stewards will send a report on the incident to the Jockey Club, which will decide whether Stickels should face disciplinary action. Some have already passed judgement.

"No wonder Mrs Stickels is known as Calamity Jane on the racecourses if punters cannot rely on the result given by the judge," John McCririck, the Channel 4 betting pundit, said.