Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority fines Ascot Racecourse over standard of sampling box,
1. On 19 April 2018, the independent Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) held an enquiry into an allegation of breach of Rule (F)15.2.3 of the Rules of Racing. This requires the Managing Executives of racecourses to comply with General Instructions issued by the BHA. These instructions set out the facilities to be provided and the standards to be met at racecourses. In the present case, there was alleged to have been, on 17 February 2018, a failure to observe the requirement in paragraph 6 of BHAGI 12.3 – that the “Sampling Unit, its equipment and loose boxes are to kept scrupulously clean, hygenic and in good condition.”
2. The BHA’s case was presented by Lyn Williams, and the Ascot Managing Executive, which admitted the breach alleged, was represented by Rory Mac Neice.
3. During racing on 17 February, it was reported to the Ascot Stewards by the Veterinary Officer on duty that day that one of the four boxes within the sampling unit was found to be dirty. There was a large pile of dried droppings beneath the wood shavings, as well as some cobwebs in one corner. This first came to the notice of Mel Baker, an Equine Welfare Intelligence Officer, when she was accompanying a horse for sampling purposes, and had to make use of the box she found to be dirty because others were in use. After the sample was taken, the Veterinary Officer, Ms Jocelyn Habershon-Butcher, reported the problem to the Stewards, who sought an explanation from the Clerk of the Course, Mr Chris Stickels. He said that the Stable Manager had informed him that the two boxes usually used within the sampling unit were cleaned out as usual before the race day, but that the other two boxes appeared to be clean and were not mucked out after the previous meeting (which had been on 20 January). The Stewards referred the matter to the BHA, which led to the holding of this enquiry.
4. To support his argument that a penalty lower than the entry point fine of £3,500 prescribed in the Guide to Procedures and Penalties was appropriate, Mr Mac Neice referred to various features of the case. He emphasised that the EWIO, Mel Baker, referred twice unprompted during the enquiry held by the Stewards at Ascot to the “normally immaculate” state of the boxes. He also described how it was that boxes both in the sampling unit and in the racecourse generally were prepared. This was done by the Stable Manager himself, Tom Grantham, with assistance from his wife, nephew and a couple of part-timers. The sampling unit boxes were done by Mr Grantham on his own, and he was a senior member of staff who had spent his life in racing. This was an isolated human error, it was said, rather than a systemic failure.
5. For the Panel, it was important that the penalty should reflect the seriousness of a failure to have boxes at sampling units in particular “scrupulously clean” condition required by the BHAGI. Even where, as here, there was no evidence that the failure to have all the boxes at the Ascot unit in that condition actually interfered with the work of taking reliable and trustworthy samples, the need for public confidence in the sampling process is obvious. The fact that the default here occurred in the sampling unit was, in the Panel’s view, a serious aggravating feature of the case. Another cause for concern was that the Panel had no direct account from Mr Grantham, even in statement form, of how the error came to occur. Further, it was not accepted that there was no systemic failure here. The certificate evidencing that work required by the BHAGI had been carried out was in fact signed by Mr Grantham himself. It seems to the Panel that a more reliable form of certification, at least for the work of preparation of the sampling unit, could and should be in place. For instance, this might be checked and signed off by the Clerk of the Course himself.
6. In the light of these considerations, the Panel imposed a fine of £5,000.