DESPITE some high profile racing, the start of the 2020 ITBA Awards Winners Handicap Hurdle at Naas on Sunday proved the major talking point after a farce of a start to the race. The contest was delayed for a considerable time, when ‘Melly and Me’ unseated Sean Flanagan and galloped around the track in various directions prior to being caught.
As the runners lined up, ‘Shakeytry’ veered left, unseating his rider bringing both ‘Sean Says’ and ‘Aarons Day’ to a standstill even before the tape was released by starter Derek Cullen. Uproar followed on the television coverage being presented by Kevin O’Ryan and Ruby Walsh. Even the course commentator was unsure if the race was actually off or started and said: “In fact is this race on?”, as the runners set off.
‘Winner alright’ was even announced prior to the announcement of a stewards’ enquiry, further undermining the rules of racing.
Ruby Walsh said: “That should have been a false start – absolutely no doubt. The tape hadn’t gone. There is no way Derek Cullen can start that race. If the tape hasn’t been pulled, that’s a false start – that’s shambolic!”
Kevin O’Ryan added: “It’s a downright disgrace.”
Then detailed the costs of entry, travel and jockey fees for the horse failing to get a run.
O’Ryan, a former top amateur rider, continued: “There is no way that should have started – absolutely no way.”
Walsh stated everyone makes mistakes, but said: “There has to be serious questions asked about the start of that race and every owner, trainer and jockey gets sanctioned for mistakes, but nobody seems to be (referring Turf Club).”
The issue continued to dominate and be debated during the remainder of the coverage of the meeting, while it was also detailed that it was not the first time the starter Derek Cullen has been involved in controversy in the starting of races.
Denis Egan, Chief Executive of the Irish Horseracing Regularity Board (Turf Club), was present at the meeting, but declined to comment, stating the issue had been referred to the IHRB.
A brief statement was issued in the daily stewards’ reports, which said: “The stewards enquired into the start of this race. Evidence was heard from L A McKenna, rider of ‘Aarons Day’; K J Brouder, rider of ‘Sean Says’; P T Enright, rider of ‘Shakeytry’ and from Mr D Cullen, IHRB starter. Having considered the evidence and the matter, the stewards referred the matter to CEO of the IHRB for further investigation.”