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Talking Horses: BHA to conduct more ID checks after giving £4,000 fine

Greg Wood and Chris Cook
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Hugh Routledge/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Hugh Routledge/Shutterstock

The British Horseracing Authority said on Thursday that it has been conducting “additional ID checks” at major Flat meetings and is still engaged in a “longer term piece of work” to prevent any repeat of the embarrassing debacle at Newmarket last year when two horses from Aidan O’Brien’s yard, Mother Earth and Snowfall, swapped identities in the Group One Fillies’ Mile.

O’Brien was fined £4,000 over the incident by the BHA’s disciplinary panel on Thursday having been found in breach of Rule J (19), which covers conduct “prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing in Great Britain”.

Related: Talking Horses: Newbury seeks to extend vaccine programme

O’Brien was unable to travel to Newmarket for the race on 9 October due to coronavirus quarantine restrictions that would have required him to self-isolate with no access to his yard or horses when returning to Ireland.

Instead, the saddling of his two runners in the Fillies’ Mile, one of the season’s most valuable and prestigious juvenile events, was overseen by Kevin Murphy, a member of staff who had been based in Newmarket for several months to supervise O’Brien’s runners in Britain.

O’Brien told Thursday’s hearing that Murphy mistakenly saddled Mother Earth, who was due to be ridden by William Buick, with the saddle and number-cloth for Snowfall, whose intended rider was James Doyle. Neither jockey had ridden either of the horses before and both climbed aboard what appeared to be their mount in the paddock before going into the “correct” stall in the starting gate.

Mother Earth (18-1) was expected to outperform her stable companion, who was sent off at 50-1. At first sight, though, Snowfall appeared to have outrun her odds significantly as she was called home in third place, with Mother Earth apparently well down the field in eighth.

The first hint of the mix-up arrived a few minutes later when a keen-eyed Twitter user pointed out that the filly in third place did not have a white “sock” on her near hind leg – unlike the Snowfall that had previously lined up for half a dozen races in Ireland.

“All I can say is that I’m very sorry,” O’Brien told Thursday’s hearing. “It was obviously the Covid time and everything was a bit of a mess with the pandemic and logically it was very difficult to have runners in England at all.

“So we had to leave our team of people over there to take the horses off the plane. This was something we could never expect or believe could happen. Since then, the lads all travel with a [microchip] scanner, and every horse will be scanned as they get off the plane. We are very sorry for any embarrassment that it’s caused.”

The BHA introduced stricter rules on ID checks for runners after two incidents in the space of six months in 2017 and 2018 when two horses travelling to a meeting from the same yard were switched between their intended races. In the Newmarket incident, however, both Mother Earth and Snowfall were in the right race. As a result, the standard chip-scanning procedures in place did not catch the error. The BHA is now assessing the feasibility of stricter protocols to highlight a similar mistake in future.

“Since the incident at Newmarket, additional ID checks have been in place at major Flat fixtures to minimise the risk of a re-occurrence,” a spokesperson said on Thursday. “A longer-term piece of work has been ongoing since October to look at the additional resource, technology and funding required to implement a further ID check once horses are saddled.” GW

Friday’s best bets, by Chris Cook

It might easily be a mistake to go back to Lingfield after taking a pasting there on Thursday but Munificent (2.05) looks overpriced at 11-2 as he makes his handicap debut. From the Cole stable, he was steadily progressive in three quick novice runs in November, looking very much as though the step back to this trip would help.

He has a couple of siblings who won at this track, including one who ended up being rated a lot higher than here. He’s had a wind operation since his last run and Cieren Fallon takes over from a 7lb claimer.

Tips by Chris Cook

Musselburgh 

12.50 Brodick 1.20 Bullion Boss 1.55 Chanting Hill 2.25 Tommy's Oscar 3.00 Spanish Jump 3.30 Fourth Of July (nap) 4.05 Arthur's Seat

Lingfield 

1.00 Hunters Step 1.30 Inevitable Outcome 2.05 Munificent (nb) 2.35 Aberama Gold 3.10 Passional 3.40 Oslo 4.10 Pride Of England

Chelmsford 

4.45 Owhatanight 5.15 Case Of The Ex 5.45 Show Me A Sunset 6.15 Tone The Barone 6.45 Dutugamunu 7.15 Secret Victory 7.45 The Cincinnati Kid 

Ffos Las Abandoned because of waterlogging 

Fingers crossed for some jump racing at Musselburgh, where there is hope Fourth Of July (3.30) can finally get a win. He showed plenty of promise on his chasing debut last month and this longer trip looks a help, as is the return of Ryan Mania in the plate. This big field has few really strong contenders and 8-1 is fine.

The market doesn’t agree but I saw some promise in the hurdling debut of Brodick (12.50), who was well held in the end but was taking on male juveniles and now gets a handy weight allowance from older mares. Having had a wind operation since that first start, and presumably a fair bit of schooling, she could nick a place at a decent price.