Lessons To Learn From Epsom Dash Fiasco

Lessons To Learn From Epsom Dash Fiasco

While this past weekend saw one of the greatest training feats in history as Aidan O’Brien transformed Auguste Rodin from a horse who was far nearer last than first in the 2000 Guineas into a Classic winner with victory in the Derby, much of the attention from Saturday focused on the fiasco that was the Epsom Dash start. 

Background

I’m sure most readers are aware but it’s probably worth pointing out just in case that the Epsom Dash is the big sprint of the weekend, possibly after Royal Ascot’s Wokingham Handicap the biggest sprint handicap of the month.

A field of 20 went to post just 35 minutes after 14 had tackled the same course and distance in the equivalent race for three-year-old’s.

The Issue

The inside bank of stalls opened before the outside bank due to Alligator Alley (in stall 14) anticipating the start and triggering the inside group of stalls opening. 

At the same time Angle Land (drawn 17 in the second group of stalls) also anticipated the start and started before stalls 16, 18, 19 and 20 who were all slowly away.

Quite when the stewards noticed this is open to debate as there seemed to be a significant delay in these details appearing in the BHA stewards reports published on their website.

In fact there was a lot more talk about the start on social media before it seemed the stewards on the day were aware of an issue.

The Result

For the record Alligator Alley met plenty of trouble in the race jumping the path after two furlongs and being hampered at around the same time prior to finishing 12th of 20. 

Angle Land unsurprisingly for a horse who started before the others finished best of those drawn high being beaten less than two lengths into sixth while the horses drawn 16 (Ancient Times), 18 (Lihou), 19 (Vintage Clarets) and 20 (Live In The Moment) finished 15th, 20th (and last), 14th and 17th respectively.

While Ancient Times stall was the slowest to open he acquitted himself pretty well in the circumstances finishing best of those disadvantaged by the start while it’s of note that even being hampered and jumping the path failed to stop the fast starting Alligator Alley from beating the slow starters home.

Live In the Moment was arguably most disadvantaged by the stalls debacle given that he is an out and out front-runner who had no opportunity to employ such tactics.

The Stalls

The issue with the stalls could be debated for any length of time but it’s notable that York have their own set of 20 (thanks to The Barstewards podcast for pointing this out) and in this day and age, particularly at a track like Epsom that stages any number of valuable races including the biggest flat race of the year, it seems unacceptable for tracks to be using stalls that can so easily malfunction.

A bank of 20+ stalls must surely be available for tracks such as Epsom to purchase, even if as others point out it prevents them from travelling them all over the country on the country’s motorway network.

When looking at these issues it’s worth pointing out that tracks like Epsom, Ascot, Newmarket, York, Doncaster and others that stage valuable big field sprints are among the biggest and presumably most profitable in the country.

Sharing stalls in this day and age should be a thing of the past with a set of 20+ available for races such as the Dash.

Further to this the stalls were originally introduced in part to ensure a fair start for all, if punters and connections now have to factor in whether their horses stall will open at the correct time into their bets then that’s another imponderable and we may as well go back to flip starts.

Time/Ground Lost

There’s been a lot of social media discussion about the amount of ground and time/lengths lost by those affected by the stalls failure and it seems illogical to assume that in a sport where we’re told thousands and hundredths of a second matter (I don’t doubt that’s the case) that missing the break by half-a-second at the start has no/limited effect on the result.

The stewards representative appeared on Racing TV later in the day to explain what in their eyes had happened but that was much too late.

There needed to be a full on stewards enquiry announced as soon as the runners passed the winning post in order to prevent bookmakers paying out and connections potentially celebrating a win that could have been taken away from them.

Handicapping

It will be particularly interesting to see how things are looked at from a handicapping perspective, if as the stewards were relatively quick to point out the slow starts mattered little we can presumably expect some drops in the weights from those in the affected stalls who I suspect will be well fancied in big sprint handicaps in the coming weeks.

Lessons Learned

As is often the case we will hear that lessons need to be learned to ensure this doesn’t happen again going forward. 

I’d suggest a steward at the start, two or three if necessary for big fields to adjudicate on whether the start is a fair one or not. 

There needs to be better communication between the stewards and the public, we can’t have a situation where people on social media are pointing out what should be glaringly obvious to a racing professional or a trainer in a stewards enquiry into the running and riding of a horse pointing out why the usual tactics weren’t used.

In truth this is just another example of a billion pound industry being made to look amateurish by poor communication.

There’ll no doubt be questions about why the levy has gone down and people are betting more on football, tennis and sports and as such racing is losing market share but in truth the sport can and I hope will do a lot better in future. 

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