Jason Watson achieved only a partial victory in his appeal on Thursday against a seven-day ban under the non-trier rules, after a hearing that turned on the question of how much effort a rider should make to gain the best possible placing when any realistic hope of making the frame is long gone.
Watson was riding Noisy Night, a two-year-old seeing a track for the first time, in a six-furlong maiden at Nottingham on 18 May when his mount ducked violently left leaving the stalls and lost, in the jockey’s estimation, a dozen lengths on his seven rivals.
The stewards’ decision to ban Watson attracted considerable comment, while the jockey said in a tweet after receiving his ban that he felt “victimised” by the decision and “unsure of the true intentions of the BHA”.
Watson admitted at his appeal that he had swiftly accepted that Noisy Night’s chance had gone and had not made a “real, timely or substantial effort” as a result, but argued, via his solicitor Rory Mac Neice, that the immediate loss of any realistic chance was an “acceptable reason” for this.
Mac Neice pointed out that following a similar incident at Newbury three days earlier, when Watson finished last on another Roger Charlton-trained debutant that swerved at the start, he was not found to have broken the rules.
He also offered as evidence an unsolicited email from Rupert Arnold, the president of the National Trainers Federation, to Paul Struthers, the chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, offering full support for Watson’s ride from the Flat trainers on the NTF’s council.
“Racing is not formulaic,” Mac Neice said. “Jockeys are riding living animals. It is accepted in this case that Mr Watson did not ask his mount for real, timely and substantial effort [but] was his reason for not doing so acceptable? If it was acceptable, there was no breach.”
Louis Weston, representing the British Horseracing Authority, disagreed. “You can imagine a case where it would not be sensible for a jockey to ask for maximum effort [but] this is nowhere near that,” he told the panel.
“You can see a circumstance where a jockey suffers injury and can’t therefore ask for maximum effort, you can see that people running on to the course might be an acceptable reason … or a loose horse. The rules have safeguards to allow exceptional circumstances to be forgiven … but this is nowhere near this.
“Day in and out there are bad performances at the start … and jockeys are not entitled to down tools for the next six furlongs. People will have had money on this horse and they are entitled to see it being given a chance. Surprising things happen in sport, that’s its excitement. Who would have thought it would need 21 shots to separate the two teams [in the Europa League Final] last night? The excitement is exceptional outcomes.”
Delivering its decision, James O’Mahony, the panel’s chair, said that there “is an important public interest in seeing a horse race, even if it is unlikely to win”, and that while Watson was “put in a very difficult position at the beginning of the race … the rules are the rules”. The jockey had also “made a very early decision that he did not need to make any more efforts to comply with the rules.”
While his appeal did not succeed, Watson’s ban was reduced by two days and his deposit was also returned. He will miss next week’s high-profile two-day Derby meeting at Epsom, however, as his suspension is due to begin on 1 June.
A spokesperson for the British Horseracing Authority said on Thursday evening that the regulator noted the decision, adding: “Our stewards do an outstanding job at meetings up and down the country every day, assessing each incident exclusively on its merits and treating all participants with fairness, without favour and putting the welfare of horse and rider above all other concerns.”