Aidan O'Brien apologises as he is handed £4,000 fine for major mix-up in Fillies' Mile

By Harry Allwood@H_Allwood1
Thu 21 Jan 2021

Aidan O'Brien said "All I can say is I'm sorry" as he received a £4,000 fine from the BHA following the result of an enquiry into the the major mix-up of his two runners, who wore the wrong number cloths and were ridden by the wrong jockeys, in the Bet365 Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket last year.

O’Brien’s Snowfall, sent off a 50-1 chance, was supposed to carry the number nine saddle cloth and be ridden by James Doyle, but actually carried the number five cloth, and was ridden by William Buick.

The daughter of Deep Impact was named as the third-place finisher in the Group One feature on the day which was won by Pretty Gorgeous, trained by Aidan's son, Joseph.

However, it later emerged that Snowfall had actually finished eighth of ten, and stablemate Mother Earth, an 18-1 shot, was the one who came home in third in the number nine cloth under James Doyle.

The footage above shows William Buick (5) aboard Snowfall, and James Doyle on Mother Earth (9), before the start of the Bet365 Fillies’ Mile on October 9

The result was officially revised two weeks later by the BHA, with Mother Earth placed third, and Snowfall eighth.

The hearing into the incident took place via Zoom on Thursday, during which O’Brien admitted to being in breach of Rule (J)19 of the Rules of Racing by failing to ensure that his employees were sufficiently informed and able to identify each horse, which meant the horses in question were incorrectly saddled.

O'Brien was apologetic during the enquiry, and after hearing all of the evidence from the BHA panel, who advised there were no suspicious betting activites on the race, he said: “All I can say is, I’m sorry. Things were a bit of a mess due to the Coronavirus pandemic and it was difficult to even have runners in England, so we had to leave a team of people over there.

"It was something that happened that we could never expect, or believe, could happen.

“We are sorry it happened, and we are sorry for the embarrassment it caused.”

O’Brien was not at Newmarket on the day, and was unable to watch the race live, but it was brought to his attention on Twitter about the potential mix-up.

After watching a recording of the race at home, O’Brien said he “knew as soon as the stalls opened” that the wrong fillies had come out of the wrong starting stalls, and their riders were wearing the wrong silks.

The Ballydoyle handler quickly contacted the British Horseracing Authority to alert them to the mistake and that his on-course staff, who were based in Britain as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, had saddled the horses incorrectly.

A stewards' enquiry was held the following day where evidence was gathered into the incident.

Watch a full replay of the Bet365 Fillies' Mile

All racehorses have a uniquely-numbered microchip implanted in their neck and are scanned on entry to the racecourse stables to confirm their identity.

The BHA said both of O’Brien’s runners were scanned, and identified, with no issues before they were saddled, which was confirmed by headman Kevin Murphy who runs Aidan O'Brien's satellite yard in Newmarket, and was his representative on the day.

However, during the stewards' enquiry, Murphy, who saddled both runners, said he "thought one horse was the other, and put the number nine cloth on what should have been the number five. It was a simple mistake". He also added that he was "unfamiliar with the horses".

O'Brien has made some changes since the incident and advised that all his staff now have a scanner to identify their horses at the races. He explained:

“The changes we have made since then is that all our staff now travel with a scanner, and every horse will be scanned by them as they get off the plane.

"The head lad would then be able to scan the horses, and then be able to see which is which.

"He (Murphy) had it in his head when they got off the plane (at Newmarket) that one was one, and the other was the other. If he could have scanned them himself, there would have been no mix-up.

"The person leading up should have known, but it is the responsibility of the person in charge. It was a bizarre thing.

"I could not believe it, and they were all devastated it happened, and it was human error. The only thing that could stop it is if they could scan the horses themselves."

After hearing O'Brien's evidence and deliberating between themselves, panel chair Philip Curl told the trainer: "We accept entirely that this was a genuine mistake, and we certainly give you full credit for bringing this matter to the attention of the stewards as soon as you could, and we are grateful for the fact you have been frank and honest throughout this investigation.

"The rule here is (J)19 which is the predujicial to the integrity of proper conduct and good reputation of horse racing, and this was a mistake, unfortunately, in a high-profile Grade One race.

"In all of the circumstances, we feel the fine should be one of £4,000."

Additional ID checks have been in place at racecourses since the incident to minimize the risk of the error happening again. A statement from the BHA said:

“Since the incident at Newmarket, additional ID checks have been in place at major Flat fixtures to minimize the risk of a re-occurrence. 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. It is particularly challenging in the current environment due to the additional resourcing requirements that the BHA’s COVID-19 protocols already place upon staffing levels, but additional checks are being carried out on a discretionary basis.

“We will continue the work looking at the feasibility of implementing an additional check following saddling permanently and communicate any changes to participants and the public as necessary.”

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