A small field is no bar to drama in racing, as events at Huntingdon on Tuesday showed. The 32Red Handicap Chase attracted just four runners, of which only two finished. The drama unfolded both in the race itself and later in the judge’s box.
There was no great surprise that Tigre D’Aron needed the race. He hadn’t run for 325 days, so it was understandable when he weakened and tailed off in the final mile. He was already well behind when the other three came to the second last. Here, the two joint favourites, Strongbows Legend and Ballypatrick ended their race. The former fell, fatally as it turned out, hampering his rival, who then unseated jockey Conor O’Farrell.
That left outsider Muldoon’s Picnic to come home a long way in front of Tigre D’Aron. But exactly how far? The officiating judge, David Hicks, declared a distance of more than 99 lengths.
We need to make a slight diversion here to consider the question “How far is a length in racing?” It’s only recently that I learned exactly how this is calculated. In practice, it isn’t a distance of measurement, but of time, determined by the sort of race involved and the going. Here’s how the BHA describes the process of determining distances (and see image below).
How the Judge calculates Distances
Distances are calculated on the elapsed time between each horse and then a scale known as the Lengths per Second Scale (Lps) is used dependent upon whether it is Flat or Jumps racing, the type of surface in use at the all weather fixtures and the official going description issued on the day. The Scales used vary from 4 to 5 Lps for Jumps racing and from 5 to 6 Lps on the Flat. When the going description distinguishes between different parts of the course, the scale relating to the going in the straight is applied.
The Photo-finish system records an elapsed time between each finisher and the Judge is responsible for ensuring that the correct Lps scale is being used. If however the actual physical distance appears to be different from that calculated then the Judge has it within his powers to alter the distance to that which is physically seen. This would be done for the first three distances up to two and a half lengths.
As we can see, photo finish equipment is used to determine distances, bur for this race it hadn’t been switched on. Hicks had to resort to RaceTech film of the race. It’s here that the post race drama occurred. Hicks made an error when he was watching the replay, timing the events with a stopwatch, as Robin Mounsey explained for the BHA after the mistake had come to light. He said, “The judge was unaware he was watching a slow motion replay so the time he ascertained was double the actual time between the first and second placed horses.” Ergo, the declared distance was twice the actual margin, subsequently corrected to 53 lengths.
RaceTech acknowledged their part in the error, saying their technician had put the tape on at the wrong speed, and as the winning distance was so great it had no impact on any distance betting. Sporting Index, the major firm offering that market, operates a maximum of 30 lengths for any individual race.
Everyone has acknowledged their part in the mishap, with Hicks excused his error. Mounsey added, “It has been noted and corrected. We have received only one comment and that wasn’t a complaint.”