Declan Lavery wins appeal against ten-day ban he received at Cheltenham

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Thu 21 Mar 2019

Declan Lavery said he was "very relieved" after on Thursday afternoon winning his appeal against the ten-day ban he received for his ride on Jerrysback in the National Hunt Chase at last week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The British Horseracing Authorirty claimed Lavery should have pulled up Jerrysback between the final two fences of the four-mile race because he had “no more to give”.

But the jockey, said he would have stopped had he thought for a single moment his mount, who finished third, would not be able to negotiate the final fence. He did not use his whip in the finish.

An independent Disciplinary Panel of the BHA, chaired by former QC Patrick Milmo, determined that Laverty was correct to continue aboard the Philip Hobbs-trained gelding and quashed his suspension - in the process also removing the stain on his character.

The one negative for Lavery is that the appeal drifted on longer than he expected. As a consequence the rider missed his intended flight back to Ireland and had to hunt for another.

Hobbs also gave evidence, reporting that Jerrysback had suffered no ill effects and was back cantering with a tilt at the Irish Grand National next month on his agenda.

"I'm very relieved that we got the result we were looking for," Lavery said. "I was very shocked initially, because I was delighted with myself for getting him round as he nearly fell a couple of times, so to get back and find out I'd got ten days took the buzz away.

"The drama around it hasn't affected me, I just put my head down and I'm pleased to get it over and done with.

"I had a really good team behind me, I had Andrew (Coonan), I had Rory (Mac Neice) and Mr Hobbs - I was very happy he came up to help me. I didn't feel like I'd done anything wrong."

He added to Sky Sports Racing: "I was quietly confident I'd get it turned round, but having the right people behind me made it a bit easier.

"I was confident I'd done the right thing. I can get back point-to-pointing this weekend, get things back to normal.

"It was brilliant AP (McCoy) was standing up for me. He gave me his phone number and told me to ring him anytime, maybe that's just a Northern (Ireland) thing."

Mac Neice, a solicitor who has sat through numerous appeals processes, said: "We thought the ban was wrong, but in fairness the stewards on the day didn't have the three hours to study it like today.

"The process allows us to ask for decisions on the racecourse to be reviewed. That doesn't have to be a criticism of the stewards on the day, that process is there for a reason and we've been saying the decision on the day was wrong and the decision today was correct.

"An important element of the decision today is that the welfare of the horse comes first."

In total, three jockeys received bans totalling 37 days for their rides in the four-mile novices’ chase from the stewards at Cheltenham with Lavery deemed guilty of riding on when “it appeared contrary to the horse’s welfare”.

A subsequent statement from the BHA said the governing body was “extremely disappointed by the conduct of a small number of riders”, adding “amateur participation in its current form at future Festivals will be under material threat should further incidents occur”.

Ted Walsh pulled no punches in his interview with Lydia Hislop

Few would argue the historic race was a sombre spectacle – 14 of the 18 runners did not complete and Ballyward lost his life in a mid-race fall – but the bans and subsequent condemnation drew stinging responses from many of the sport’s most respected figures, including McCoy and Ted Walsh.

The latter, in an interview with Lydia Hislop on Racing TV, said the bans “were over the top, a disgraceful decision” and when pressed on the sport being under scrutiny added that “if you don’t like racing, go and watch Peppa Pig”.

Lavery’s punishment, in particular, quickly became a focus of attention.

The experienced amateur, who has ridden more tjan 80 winners under Rules, never used his whip in the kind of slow-motion finish often seen in long-distance staying chases fought out in the mud.

He cajoled his partner along to make the frame. The pair crossed the finish line about 12 seconds after the winner, Le Breuil, to claim third prize of £13,000 and reward those punters who backed them each-way at 16-1.

No vet inspected Jerrysback on his return to the winner’s enclosure and Hobbs, when he appeared on Luck On Sunday at the weekend, said the seven-year-old, owned by JP McManus, was tired in the immediate aftermath but none the worse for his exploits.

In the presence of Nick Rust, the chairman of the BHA, the trainer said: “He (Jerrysback) was tired, there’s no doubt about that. The second-last he jumped very carefully, because he was tired, and the last he jumped better as he was just getting going again.

Nick Rust had plenty to say about the National Hunt Chase and other welfare issues on Luck On Sunday at the weekend

“I don’t think, at any stage, Declan Lavery was pushing the horse more than was reasonable – he didn’t even use the stick.

“After the race the horse was absolutely fine. No vet actually was asked to see him after the race, which I think is relevant, as surely if the horse was completely exhausted the vet should have seen him before Declan Lavery went into the stewards’ room?”.

Rust did not talk directly about Lavery but had earlier said: “I defy anyone to say that race was a good example of what our sport’s about, that the race did anything to help us in the future management of our sport or, indeed, that all the rides in that race were within our rules.”

The Disciplinary Panel verdict, at their own headquarters in London, represents another bloodied nose for the BHA at a time when they seem to be taking punches from various directions.

A statement issued by them read: "The BHA accepts the findings of the independent Disciplinary Panel in today’s appeal hearing.

"It is the view of the BHA that the Rules should be a proactive and preventative measure to avoid horses being put into a position of avoidable risk, and the stewards on the day acted in accordance with this.

"However, the finding of the Disciplinary Panel was that the current construct of the Rules indicate that the rider was not in breach of Rule (D)45.3.2. We will await their written reasons before commenting further on this issue.

"Stewards have to make immediate decisions in the midst of a sporting event. That is why an independent appeals process exists which offers a fair process for challenging stewarding decisions. A range of incidents happened during this race which the stewards had to consider. The other decisions have not been challenged at appeal.

It added: "The Panel were also clear that the requirement of the Rules to pull up tired horses has primacy over the requirement to achieve the best possible placing, and that it is no justification to continue on a horse to finish placed in a race if doing so would be contrary to the horse’s welfare.

"This rule is 20 years old and was agreed by all groups in our sport who are represented on our Rules Committee. It has been invoked a number of times in recent years. It continues to be an important rule that demonstrates our commitment to protect the welfare of our horses.

"We thank Mr Lavery for the way he has conducted himself since the incident, and also trainer of the horse Philip Hobbs."

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