Punters jeer O'Regan after Fakenham blunder

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The Independent Online

Finishing work early for a change is a happy event but jockeys must be careful to avoid the experience – particularly during a race. Denis O'Regan had that sinking feeling yesterday after riding Harringay to "victory". There was in fact another circuit still to travel, and the crowd were jeering instead of cheering.

It was O'Regan's first visit to the tight Norfolk track and the Irishman later left red-faced and with a 14-day ban.

Harringay, a well-backed 5-2 shot in the beginners' chase, is usually held up but O'Regan suddenly kicked his mount into a clear lead approaching the short home straight. After passing the winning post, which is on a shute away from the chase track, he looked back and across to see his rivals galloping unhurriedly with another mile of the three-mile race still to go.

It was not as farcical a scene as at Tramore, Co Waterford, last month where more than a dozen riders made the same mistake, but O'Regan deserved his ban from 25 January to 7 February.

"He's absolutely devastated, but it's just one of those things and they have been telling me this has apparently happened here before," reflected Henrietta Knight, Harringay's trainer. "He did know there were three circuits as we were talking about it in the paddock before, but it's just simple human error and there's no point getting angry about it."

The mistake by the 25-year-old from Co Cork, a top jockey in Ireland until switching to England last summer, left a simple task for the 13-8 favourite Cathedral Rock. So not all punters joined in the booing.

O'Regan's embarrassment will be more acute because it follows so soon after the New Year's Evefiasco at Tramore. All 14 riders finished a circuit too early in the fifth race there, eased down and began to head towards the unsaddling enclosure. Nine were banned for five days.

Then, last Thursday at Southwell, four of the five riders in a one-mile contest ignored a false start and a recall flag waved by an official after a stalls malfunction. There were angry scenes in the betting ring.

The four jockeys, Andrew Elliott, Kirsty Milczarek, Pat Cosgrave and Paul Mulrennan, were banned for seven days. Yesterday they announced they had decided not to appeal against the suspensions.

Perhaps someone with the name Corrigan should desist from criticising too loudly over these developments – in 1938 a pilot who became known as Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan flew above the clouds from New York to Ireland – even though he was due to be flying the same distance to California.

But yesterday's calamity in East Anglia seems to point clearly to a need for action from racing's officialdom. It is not as if there is a shortage of officials. One immediate, preventative measure that needs to be put into force was suggested by Henrietta Knight yesterday afternoon. The trainer said: "The one thing I would say is that they really should doll off the finishing line until the final circuit, like they do at some other tracks, and then it wouldn't happen again."

Owners, stables and punters, not just those who backed Harringay, deserve that and more. The same losers were still not throwing their hats in the air by the time of the last race at Fakenham when the Queen's horse Gold Award made an impressive introduction in a National Hunt Flat race.

Also on a royal note, this year's King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot will be run as a Group One for the first time following the decision to upgrade the sprint. The five-furlong heat was a Group Two despite its increasingly high profile as part of the Global Sprint Challenge series.

However, following the European Pattern Committee's annual meeting in Paris last week, the Ascot race has now been promoted to the highest level.

* David Casey anticipates being on the sidelines for around five to six weeks after dislocating his shoulder in a crashing fall at Leopardstown on Sunday from the Tommy Stack-trained Perce Rock.