PAT KEANE: Time to start televising high-profile inquiries

If ever there was a good case for televising stewards’ inquiries, it can surely be made following that Paul Townend debacle at Punchestown on Tuesday, writes Pat Keane.

This was a mystery from start to finish and, with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board making no effort to throw any light on the subject, as punters headed to bed that night, the conspiracy theorists were allowed free rein to hit overdrive.

Some of the rubbish that appeared on social media bordered on the ridiculous, with one anonymous punter calling for Townend to be banned for life. 

That was absurd, obviously, but there is no doubt this was an extraordinary error by Townend and, without hearing from the rider himself, impossible to explain.

Everyone in racing is familiar with what happened, with Townend, aboard Al Boum Photo in a Grade 1 novice chase, having a relatively long look back before the final fence and then deciding he had to bypass it.

There was no reason whatsoever why the obstacle had to be bypassed, as the professional pundits, both on RTÉ and ATR, and many others all over Britain and Ireland, struggled to make sense of what had unfolded in front of them.

It was Wednesday before any explanation was forthcoming, with Townend reporting that he heard a shout and thought the final fence was to be bypassed.

Clearly he was mistaken as far as the fence being bypassed was concerned, and, with only a second or two to make a decision, he clearly panicked and got it totally wrong.

We all know panic, in any aspect of life, can lead to disaster. How many people have taken the wrong turn when driving, panicked and then proceeded to make the situation many times worse?

For Townend, at least in a racing sense, this was a disaster. His actions made no sense, with Mick Fitzgerald, on ATR, probably summing it up best when remarking: “For some reason he’s had a brainstorm.’’

Townend then refused to comment on emerging from the stewards’ room. That was disappointing, but perfectly understandable, and so we waited for the stewards’ report to throw light on the rider’s apparent brain-freeze.

That proved wholly inadequate, only revealing Townend had been found guilty of dangerous riding and suspended for 21 days.

That simply wasn’t good enough. There were punters, possibly thousands of them, who had every reason to feel short-changed and they deserved an explanation.

None was offered, with punters essentially regarded as a mere irritation. If the television cameras had been allowed into the stewards’ room that would have answered the numerous questions being asked all over racing-land. 

And it would have made for riveting viewing as well. We would have heard Townend’s explanation and his apology. 

By Wednesday the regulator had woken up to just how much interest there was in the story, publishing a second report, but the damage had been done.

Isn’t it time the cameras were allowed film stewards’ inquiries, at least in certain circumstances? You don’t want them in there for routine cases, which make up the vast majority of inquiries, but in high-profile instances there is a great argument for cameras being utilised.

The IHRB says it is in favour of the cameras, but the jockeys are against it. If that remains the case, the jockeys need to grow up and come into a world where transparency is king.

The stewards handed Townend a 21-day ban and I believe they got that just about right. It was a bad mistake on his part and he had to pay a price.

Mind you there was the notion, floated in some quarters, that the stewards should have passed the issue on to a higher authority, thereby giving more time to arrive at a final decision.

Anyway, Townend will recover from this and it should not in any way define him. It was a human error and the man that never made a mistake never made anything!

On Wednesday, he had to return to Punchestown, in front of 19,000 plus on site and thousands more watching on television.

It had to be one of the toughest experiences the young man has ever faced, but to ride three winners on the day, with a savage mixture of skill and aggression, was the perfect comeback.

Time to start televising high-profile inquiries

Townend is not the first to make a mistake on the racecourse and certainly won’t be the last. In the distant past Conor O’Dwyer rode a finish with a circuit to go at Tramore, admittedly on a far less important stage.

But he recovered to enjoy a terrific career that included landing two Cheltenham Gold Cups and two Champion Hurdles.

Soon, the Townend blunder will be just a fading memory.

Those six winners for Willie Mullins at Punchestown on Wednesday must have sent shivers through every trainer in Britain and Ireland, including his main rival, Gordon Elliott.

The facts are simple: Mullins grows stronger and stronger, while most of the opposition are getting weaker by the day.

Bumper horses coming through are a fair yardstick of a stable’s strength going forward. What emerged from both Cheltenham and Punchestown is frightening for Mullins’ rivals.

At Cheltenham, Mullins saddled the first three home in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper ,- Relegate, Carefully Selected and Tornado Flyer respectively - as well as the fifth (Blackbow) and the seventh (Colreevy).

Then at Punchestown on Wednesday, in the Grade 1 Racing Post Champion Bumper, Mullins totally dominated with his Tornado Flyer beating stable companions Blackbow and Carefully Selected.

And Mullins’ avalanche of winners came without much help from long-time stalwart owner, Rich Ricci. He’s had two very bad seasons, by his standards, even if there was a stunning return to form by Faugheen at Punchestown on Thursday.

What seems obvious is the lack of young horses coming through for Ricci. There weren’t any on view this week.

But Mullins is able to find owners almost as easily as Mo Salah scores goals and his deeply impressive roadshow rolls relentlessly on.

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