Talking Horses: a pity the BHA did not catch Aidan O’Brien’s rare lapse | Sport
We all make mistakes. The great thing is to not make the same one twice and I would be happy to bet that Aidan O’Brien will find some means of ensuring he is never again in the unhappy position of watching a race and realising his two runners are carrying each other’s jockeys.
That was what happened to him on Friday when Mother Earth and Snowfall ran in the Fillies’ Mile, because of course something like that would never happen in a no-mark novice race; no, it had to be a Group One, with a third of a million pounds on the line. At least neither of them won, though Mother Earth finished third, with almost all onlookers believing she was Snowfall.
Perhaps I expect too much from officialdom but it irks me that this was allowed to happen. If there’s a mistake to be made, someone will make it but a well-run sport would have checks in place to spot such a mix-up before the race was run. Until Friday, I fondly imagined that racing had such checks, following a mix-up of horses at Yarmouth in 2017 and another at Southwell the next year.
But it turns out the protocols introduced after those events by the British Horseracing Authority were aimed squarely at catching instances of trainers bringing the wrong horse to the track or mixing up their runners in different races. In other words, the protocols would work brilliantly if trainers only repeated the mistakes made at Yarmouth and Southwell but could not be expected to catch a slightly different mistake.
I had thought the BHA response to Yarmouth was to put in place a system ensuring each runner was in fact who it was supposed to be, which would probably require horses to have their microchips scanned after being saddled and fitted with a number cloth. Mention that concept now and what you get from the BHA are grumblings about cost.
In the end, though, the ruling body will have to stop sulking and devise a better system. Its responsibility in this area was spelled out by an impressive statement in its own fair hand after the Southwell incident: “It is vital that the public’s trust in racing as a fair, well-regulated sport, which is run with the highest standards of professionalism and integrity, is not impacted by similar incidents,” it said.
What fine words those are and, even though Friday’s events show the BHA has not lived up to them, they were a useful and reassuring statement of intent. Something similar is needed now because four days have gone by since the Fillies’ Mile and, so far as I can tell, the reaction in High Holborn has not gone much beyond: i) it’s Aidan’s responsibility anyway, and ii) you didn’t see this coming, did you, so why should we?
O’Brien works hard every day to maintain his position as one of the best trainers in the world, one of the best in racing history, and the sport’s followers do not want to see him tripped up by an incident he could not have prevented from 500 miles away. It is a great pity racing’s procedures were not robust enough to help him.