Fakenham swerve crash course with BHA over track layout

Fakenham's last fence

Brendan Powell followed in the footsteps of Sam Thomas, Sam Waley-Cohen, Denis O’Regan and other jockeys when he made a costly mistake at Fakenham on Tuesday. He went the wrong way at the end of the two-mile chase, jumping the fence in front of the stands instead of passing the fence and the winning post.

Any jockey can make a mistake and they are responsible for what happens. Of course in the immediate aftermath, people who have backed his horse will be annoyed. But when similar things happen at the same spot, there must be other factors in play.

It seems pretty obvious to anyone watching that the problem at Fakenham is one that can easily be avoided. All that is needed is to doll off the approach to that particular fence as the horses go out on their final circuit. That idea received short shrift from the executive at the track when clerk of the course David Hunter said, “People have suggested taping or coning off the fence but ultimately that relies on what would be a casual member of staff from the racecourse company taking on that responsibility. I don’t feel it is right that the responsibility for counting the amount of circuits should be taken away from the jockeys and put on a casual member of staff.”

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That cavalier attitude put Hunter on a collision course with the British Horseracing Authority, for whom Robin Mounsey said, “The responsibility for taking the correct course always rests solely with the rider. However, in the light of this incident and other similar cases at the course in recent years, the BHA is likely to request that Fakenham put in place systems to minimise the risk of a repeat at their next fixture. We will work with Fakenham in order to find the best possible solution.”

By this morning, Hunter and his management team at Fakenham appeared to have got the message that they have a responsibility to help the jockeys get it right. That’s how it has always been seen at Stratford, where there is a similarly divided course in front of the stands. At Stratford they use the directional marker poles, which all courses have to divert jockeys round a fence if it is damaged, or there’s an injured horse or jockey on the landing side. Clerk of the course at Stratford, Stephen Lambert said, “I accept David’s (Hunter) argument that by putting down markers you hand responsibility back to the racecourse, and probably to members of casual staff, but I think racecourses should do all we can to make certain the correct course is perfectly clear to jockeys.”

Exactly so. Hunter seemed barely mollified in his view when he conceded, “We will now see what we can do to improve. It has to be a system that is foolproof and simple to operate but ultimately it won’t take away the jockey’s responsibility. I guess we would be looking at a specific person whose job it is to put out cones that doll off that particular fenced after it has been jumped for the last time.”

That’s a start, but as the previous incident at Fakenham involved Sam Waley-Cohen riding a finish a circuit early on Otage de Brion last December, why not go further and help prevent that happening again. Cheltenham avoids that problem by running a tape across the entrance to the straight to send the horses round again. Crikey, they could save money and use the same man and the same piece of tape! Is that too much to ask?

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2 replies
  1. zakazano says:

    pathetic passing of the buck there by the Clerk of the Course. This should be the ultimatum from the BHA – sort it out or lose fixtures! This is a billion pound industry allowing decisions, which costs punters money and harm the image of the sport, to be made by muppets! Shouldn’t be the jockey getting suspended but the track officials. Rank amateurs…

  2. Matt Bisogno says:

    In fairness, it is easy enough to ride the wrong course, as young Powell did. It is far harder to ride a finish a circuit early, as W-C did. And he then lied to the stewards, the horrible toad, whereas Powell fronted up manfully and with humility.

    Fakenham shouldn’t have had to wait for yet another incidence of ‘wrong course syndrome’ to take a really simple and obvious course of action, if you’ll pardon the pun.


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