The awkward scenario that unfolded at Newmarket in October – which saw two of Aidan O’Brien’s horses confused and misidentified – has landed the Irish trainer a £4,000 fine and caused the BHA to implement new ID checking procedures.
The horses, Mother Earth and Snowfall, ran as each other in the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile – a nightmare scenario for punters and stewards.
The episode unfolded partly because O’Brien was unable to attend the meeting on October 9 due to the coronavirus restrictions in place that would have left him needing to self-isolate for 14 days after making the trip over from Ireland. Instead, he handed the reins to Kevin Murphy, a team member on the ground at Newmarket.
Unfortunately, Murphy was not overly familiar with the horses in question, and ended up saddling Mother Earth with the cloth and number of Snowfall. William Buick climbed aboard the latter despite being booked for the former, with James Doyle on the opposite side of the mix-up.
While neither horse was expected to win the prestigious renewal, Mother Earth – at 18/1 – was given an outside chance of challenging for the placed, with Snowfall at 50/1 considered a ‘thanks for coming entry.’
But as ‘Snowfall’ bolted up in third place, her hardy backers were left celebrating a handsome each way return….until the kerfuffle was later revealed and it was actually confirmed as Mother Earth. The other horse, to keep things simple, finished down in eighth.
The error was actually spotted by an eagle-eyed punter on Twitter, who remarked that the horse that finished in third had a white ‘sock’ on her hind leg – a characteristic of Mother Earth, not Snowfall.
Making a Positive From a Negative
An investigation this week accepted the whole episode was an honest mistake, and handed O’Brien a rudimentary £4,000 fine for breaching Rule J (19) of the BHA code of conduct – that covers any scenario that is considered ‘prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing in Great Britain.’
The Irishman was apologetic for his role in the mix-up.
“All I can say is that I’m very sorry,” he said.
“It was obviously the Covid time and everything was a bit of a mess with the pandemic, and logically it was very difficult to have runners in England at all.
“So we had to leave our team of people over there to take the horses off the plane. This was something we could never expect or believe could happen. Since then, the lads all travel with a [microchip] scanner, and every horse will be scanned as they get off the plane. We are very sorry for any embarrassment that it’s caused.”
The good news is that it actually caused BHA to rethink their ID verification protocol, and they have promised that additional identity checks will be carried out at major meetings in future to prevent a similar situation happening – as well as trialling an undisclosed ‘longer term piece of work’.
As well as the Mother Earth/Snowfall debacle, there were two other cases of mistaken identity in 2017 and 2018 in which two horses were accidentally switched races. The resulting embarrassment forced the BHA to introduce new chip-scanning measures to prevent a repeat in the future.
“Since the incident at Newmarket, additional ID checks have been in place at major Flat fixtures to minimise the risk of a re-occurrence,” a BHA spokesperson confirmed to The Guardian on Thursday.
“A longer-term piece of work has been ongoing since October to look at the additional resource, technology and funding required to implement a further ID check once horses are saddled.”