The British Horseracing Authority said on Wednesday evening that it will take action to “minimise the risk” of mistakes by photo-finish judges after it emerged that an odds-on favourite had been incorrectly called as the runner-up in a race at Kempton Park five days ago. The error is the latest mistake by a racecourse official to embarrass the regulators, following two cases in the last year in which a pair of runners from the same stable ended up running in the wrong races on the card.
The result of the 8.45 race at Kempton last Friday was initially called in favour of Bird For Life, an 8-1 chance, who appeared to have collared Oregon Gift, the 10-11 favourite, in the final stride to win by a nose. Following a further review of the photo-finish image, the BHA said on Wednesday that Oregon Gift had held on to first place and that the result has now been changed. In accordance with normal betting practice, however, the original result at the “weighed in” announcement will stand for betting purposes and bets on Oregon Gift are still losers.
“Clearly, the whole team is disappointed to have to correct any race result after the day,” Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s director of integrity and raceday operations, said. “While it is appropriate that our processes allow us to put this right financially by the owner of the winning horse, we are aware that the betting public are significantly affected by issues such as this owing to the fact that the rules of betting mean that the result called on the day stands for betting purposes. We apologise to everyone affected.”
The BHA said later in a statement that it will take action “to minimise the risk of a recurrence”. While the details remain unclear, the statement added that it will “provide further support for judges by ensuring that all photo-finish decisions are available for review by a BHA official before the ‘weighed-in’ is announced, ensuring that there is a second check before betting is settled.”
Modern technology means that it is now possible for a judge to find a winner in a head-bobbing finish that would have been called as a dead heat 20 years ago. Mistakes when analysing photo-finishes are very rare but not unprecedented, a recent example being a race on a foggy day at Lingfield in December 2017 when the initial result of a tight battle for third place was later reversed.
The latest case of the “wrong” horse winning a race comes less than a year after two horses from the Charlie McBride stable were inadvertently “swapped” before their intended races at Yarmouth. As a result, the three-year-old Millie’s Kiss ran in a contest for juveniles, and “won” at 50-1.
The BHA subsequently tightened its raceday procedures but in January two runners from Ivan Furtado’s yard lined up for the wrong races on a card at Southwell, and while neither managed to win, one finished in the frame for each-way bets.
Winx missing Royal Ascot is a disappointment for fans
Randwick racecourse, in the Sydney suburbs, has styled itself as “Royal Randwick” ever since the Queen opened one of its grandstands in the early 1990s. It has been the stage for a dozen of Winx’s 24 successive victories since May 2015, and it also now seems that it is as close to Royal Ascot as Australia’s outstanding racemare is ever going to get.
The news that Winx will instead stay at home and aim for a fourth consecutive success in the Cox Plate later this year was not entirely unexpected, but it still came as a bitter disappointment for racing fans in both hemispheres.
Some of Winx’s huge army of fans took to social media to echo Wednesday’s statement by Chris Waller, her trainer, that his mare “has nothing to prove to anyone”. Away from her home turf, though, there was an inevitable sense that Winx’s connections had weighed up what would have undoubtedly been a demanding new challenge for their horse – and decided to duck it.
The first point that needs to be made, of course, is that Winx’s three owners are entitled to do as they please with their horse, and also that they have clearly taken their time and considered every detail, including the risks and welfare implications of such a demanding trip, before reaching their decision.
But there are risks involved in every trip to the track, whether it is half a planet away or half an hour down the road. If Winx really has nothing to prove to anyone, why is she still racing at all? What will a fourth Cox Plate add to her status as one of Australia’s best racehorses that the third did not? Very little.
It is difficult to see it moving her any further up the global rankings, for instance, because beating the same horses at the same handful of tracks over and again can only take a rating so far. Merely staying put on the same mark on an official rating of 132 which made her the second-best in the world in 2017 year might well be good enough to claim top spot outright this time around, but it is far from certain. Winx’s fans can hardly complain if Enable, Cracksman or one of this year’s three-year-olds improves past her, and their heroine ends up as the best horse in the world that has never been the World’s Best Horse.
As some will point out, Frankel never left his home turf either and no one ever criticised his connections for dodging a challenge.
But Frankel’s “home turf” was just as much Europe as it was Britain, and the European racing pond is simply bigger than the Australian one. Ireland, France and Britain combined have more of everything – horses, races, prize money, history and so on – and as a result, more good horses in the system too.
It’s just how the numbers game works and the horses from the smaller pond are the ones that need to travel to gild their reputations. Black Caviar did just that in 2012, and Wednesday’s decision means that, no matter how many races she ends up winning, Winx will never match the achievements of her predecessor.