Commentary box smashed and race declared void on stormy day at Chelmsford

A void race and a severely damaged commentary box caused turbulence on an eventful afternoon across the water at Chelmsford.

Strong winds whipped up by Storm Doris had made a significant impact on proceedings even before racing got under way, with the smashed windows of the commentary box leaving racecourse commentator Mike Cattermole running for cover.

With Cattermole repositioned, the first couple of races went off more or less on time, but an official inspection was staged following the second race after riders voiced their concerns.

The meeting was given the go-ahead once more, with race times delayed, but there was further drama following the six-furlong handicap.

Soon after the stalls opened, the advanced flag operator mistakenly raised her 'recall' flag, meaning the riders should pull up, but the jockeys continued to race, with the Kevin Ryan-trained Nautical Haven passing the post in front.

As well as inquiring into the flag incident, the stewards investigated why the riders did not pull up as required, but having heard their evidence, and in light of the flag operator not following the correct procedures, the jockeys were found not in breach, although the race was voided.

A frustrated Ryan said: "It's very disappointing as it's expensive for everyone, to travel the horse all the way down there.

"He won the race and it's just been cock-up.

"It's not as if any of the lads had to pull up - they all rode their race to the finish.

"It's just typical, unfortunately, that common sense hasn't prevailed.

"You'd have thought in this day and age we would have the technology to make it more foolproof than it is. To still have a flag-man is ridiculous.

"When we make mistakes, we are punished for them."

A report was forwarded to the British Horseracing Authority for further consideration.

Cattermole was unscathed as glass flew around him and was able to reflect on what he described as a "odd day".

He said: "It's been strange, that's for sure.

"There was obviously a big doubt about racing going ahead and we had a bit of drama with the windows blowing out in the commentary box, so I got out of there pretty quick.

"I ended up commentating on the full card from the broadcast office, which is a first. We've had a few shaky pictures and what have you, but somehow we got through, which is unbelievable really.

"Then we've had the void race. I think the lady with the flag hadn't realised the race started because of the wind blowing in her face. I think she's upset about the whole thing. It's been difficult for everyone.

"Credit to all the horses and jockeys - rather them than me."

The flag person in question was a member of racecourse staff.

BHA media manager Robin Mounsey explained officials had no choice under the rules but to void the race in question.

He said: "There are no circumstances in which the stop-race procedures can be initiated and then the race not restarted or declared void. Once the stop-race procedures are initiated the jockeys must pull up. This is a black and white rule and all jockeys are aware of this.

"In this case no action was taken against the jockeys because the stop-race procedure, once initiated, was not completed - no whistle was blown and the flag was not waved continuously. However, this does not mean that the stewards can ignore the fact that the stop-race procedure was initiated, and therefore the race must be declared void.

"We are aware of the consequences of this and have sympathy for those affected - it is a far from satisfactory situation for all involved in the race - but we hope that people will understand that a sport simply cannot be regulated in a manner whereby clear rules can be disregarded by the stewards, when there is no discretion to do so in the rules."

The BHA is currently trialling an automated stop-start system, like that used in other countries, using a flashing light and siren. Further trials are expected before the system can be rolled out to Flat courses on a more permanent basis.

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