Two weeks ago the Badger Ales Trophy went to post at Wincanton racecourse. This Class 1 Listed handicap chase had a prize fund of some £60,000 with the winner scoping just over £34,000. On the day, the Neil Mulholland trained The Young Master easily won the chase by some seven lengths.
However, things were not as they appeared.
In the minutes after the race, Channel Four commentators began to question whether the horse was eligible to run. One of the race's entry criteria was that a horse must have run in at least three chases. The Young Master had run in just two. Confusion set in. The steward held an inquiry but found that they could not alter the result of the race on the grounds of "ineligibility". The result stood, backers of The Young Master were paid in full, and the matter was passed to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).
The BHA subsequently met and ruled that The Young Master should not have run and was disqualified. Trainer Neil Mulholland was fined £250. The £34,000 prize fund was taken from the owners. However, bets were unaffected. Those that had backed second placed Court By Surprise to win the race could not collected.
Here's where it get very interesting. The Young Master's handicap mark was not left alone. The horse was raised 14 lbs in the ratings. This is despite the fact he was disqualified. This seems like a double punishment.
BHA director of racing Ruth Quinn said: "We have a duty to the sport as a whole, including punters and other horsemen, and that duty is not played out by not taking account of the form from Saturday's race. We appreciate that this may be seen as a hard line by some, but we are confident that in the best interests of the sport it is the correct decision. It is borne out by other precedents of horses being disqualified - for example for taking the wrong course - then being reassessed off the back of these performances."
While the BHA acknowledge that they and Weatherbys (horseracing administrators) made a mistake in letting the horse run, they believe the ultimate responsibility for entry lies with the trainer; hence the double punishment. Racing authorities suggest the error occurred due to 'computer failure'. Blame the computer. The Little Britain "Computer Say No" sketch comes to mind.