The head horsebox driver for Mick Appleby has been banned from British racecourses for four months after admitting a ‘road rage’ attack in which an official was knocked to the floor.
Nigel Wakefield was transporting two horses for Appleby to the Chelmsford City track when he became embroiled in an incident involving a member of staff, who was directing traffic in and out of the venue.
The episode was captured on CCTV, and while there were no serious injuries it was deemed serious enough to be submitted to Chelmsford Crown Court for judgement. Wakefield pled guilty to driving without due care and attention and common assault, and he was handed a ‘significant’ fine.
Recounting the Chelmsford incident, Oliver Harland – representing the BHA at a disciplinary panel on Thursday – recalled that Wakefield ‘repeatedly refused’ to co-operate with the regulator’s inquiry and had sworn at an investigating officer, telling him to ‘get out of my f*****g face.’
“Mr Wakefield drove his horse box into people who were directing traffic outside Chelmsford City Racecourse,” Harland said.
“They had valid authority to do that. He then failed to stop, having knocked someone over.”
That was not the last time that Wakefield would become involved in an unsavoury incident while on duty, and a series of complaints led the BHA to conduct a more thorough investigation into his behaviour – that was described to the disciplinary panel as ‘aggressive and disrespectful’.
A number of those episodes were detailed, with Wakefield receiving two formal warnings over his behaviour back in 2018 and again in October 2020 when he accused staff at Nottingham Racecourse of amateurism over their Covid-19 protocol.
The BHA did all they could to help Wakefield improve his conduct, even overlooking the Chelmsford incident and taking a ‘pastoral’ approach rather than punishing him outright.
In the hearing on Thursday, Harland claimed that approach ‘simply did not work’.
“There’s no excuse for running someone over, or telling several people effectively where to go for doing their jobs.”
Having already served a one-month suspension from the sport, Wakefield admitted two further offences and was later notified of his four-month ban – thought to be the largest ever served by a horsebox driver.
Two of those months will be suspended, and after hearing of mitigating circumstances Wakefield will be allowed to continue to work on site at Appleby’s yard in Leicestershire. He is the only member of the stable staff that is qualified to drive the larger of the operation’s horseboxes.
Adam Flacks, who represented Wakefield at the panel, confirmed that his client had heard that one of his friends had been diagnosed with terminal cancer on the day of the Chelmsford incident. The hearing was also presented with numerous character references, including one from Appleby himself, that spoke of the high esteem in which Wakefield is held after a 30-year career in the sport.
He has already signed up for anger management classes, and Flacks told those in attendance:
“Mr Wakefield is committed to addressing his behaviour. He is not the person portrayed by the BHA or a person that causes trouble wherever he goes.”