In the world of horse racing, there are plenty of ways for jockeys to embarrass themselves. They could struggle to get into the saddle, for example, or fall off the horse into a huge puddle. It isn’t impossible for a jockey’s pants to be pulled down during the course of riding their steed to victory, or for them to put on their silks the wrong way round. There have even been cases when the wrong horse has been entered into an event somehow. Of all of the various ways in which people involved in racing horses can embarrass themselves, perhaps nothing comes close to getting the finish line wrong.
Imagine you’re riding your horse to victory, several strides clear of your nearest competitor, then you cross the finish line and ease up in the saddle. You stand up and punch the air in excitement, having won an important race that will go down in the history books. The only problem is, what you thought was the finish line was actually just a break in the guide rails, meaning that your competitor has been able to speed up and pip you to the post. No win. No history books. Just the ignominy of having got it about as wrong as it’s possible to do.
What We’re Talking About
Horse racing is a sport that demands precise timing, skill and strategy. Jockeys are an integral part of this thrilling spectacle, guiding their mounts towards victory. However, in the fast-paced and adrenaline-filled atmosphere of a race, human errors can occur. One such mistake that has happened on several occasions is when a jockey finishes a race too early. This can happen in a number of ways, either because they have gone to the finishing line too early or they have mistaken one thing for the finishing line that wasn’t actually where the race was due to end.
This seemingly innocent error can have significant consequences for both the jockey and the sport as a whole. We aren’t talking about jockeys who have finished the race early by falling off their horse, say, or deciding that the horse that they’re riding can’t make it to the finish line and therefore deciding to pull them up. What we’re discussing here is jockeys that have incorrectly adjudged the event that they’re taking part in to have reached its crescendo well before it was actually over and done with, leaving them, the trainer and the owner very red-faced indeed.
Instance Where Jockeys Have Gone Off Too Early
Given the fact that we’re writing this article, it is fair to say that there have been more than a few examples over the years of jockeys deciding that the race is run before it actually is. Before we look at the consequences of such an action, it is first going into more detail over the incidents themselves:
Roger Loughran Goes Too Soon
In December 2005, Roger Loughran was riding Central House in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown. The Grade 1 event had a competitive field, so there was by no means a sense of certainty that the jockey would be able to get the job done. When you add into that the fact that he hadn’t won as a professional jockey, there was an obvious sense of accomplishment when he won the race, punching the air and waving his whip at the grandstand. The only problem was, he still had 80 yards to go and his celebrations allowed two other horses to sneak past him.
Loughran, it turned out, had mistaken the end of the running rail at the side of the course for the winning post, easing up on his ride as a result. Hi Cloy and Fota Island made it past him, relegating him into third place. It was an humiliating error, but there was more sympathy than recrimination after the fact. The trainer of the horse said, “Roger gets a real tune out of him and I can only feel sorry for him, as he’s the one who’s really suffering now.” Similarly, the trainer of Hi Cloy, Michael Hourigan, said, “You have to feel sorry for Roger, it was a human error, but these things happen.”
50/1 Outsider Thought He’d Won
Neil Callan was riding 50/1 outsider Ballet Blanc in the Unibet 3 Uniboosts A Day Handicap at Kempton Park in 2022, knowing that he didn’t have the greatest chance of winning. When he was in the lead after just three furlongs, however, he began to dream of his share of the prize money by taking the horse home. He had been put in the widest of the ten stalls, so the fact that he’d been able to bring the horse around his rivals and into the lead was an impressive feat in and of itself. The Amanda Perrett-owned filly was clear of everyone else as the finish line loomed.
As he crossed it, Callan eased up on his mount and enjoyed a moment of self-reflection. It was only at that moment that he noticed his colleagues heading off for another circuit, clocking his mistake. The horse eventually completed the race and was tailed off a full 86 lengths behind the horse placed in ninth. Whilst it was clearly hugely embarrassing for the jockey, he earned more than £30 million in prize money during an 11-year stint racing in Hong Kong, so it is unlikely that he was left feeling too devastated about mistaking a two-mile race for one over five furlongs.
Conditional Jockey Makes ‘Stupid Mistake’
When Ben Bromley passed the winning post Sandown race track, he stood up in his irons and celebrated getting the Nicky Henderson-trained Call Me Lord home in style. Moments later, however, he realised that he had made a ‘stupid mistake’ when he mistook the post used for the chase course as the one that he had been aiming for. He was riding in the handicap hurdle, which was run over two miles and seven and a half furlongs, meaning that he’d mistook one finishing post for the one that he was actually aiming for and which was located about 13 metres ahead.
The two courses meet the finish line at different angles, hence the need for two finishing post and the easy confusion. By the time Bromley realised his error, he’d been passed by an amateur jockey called David Maxwell who was riding Dolphin Square and ended up winning by a nose. Speaking of the matter, he said, “I rode to the wrong winning line, it’s a stupid mistake and won’t happen again.” Henderson said that he ‘felt sorry for Ben’, whilst Bromley’s father, a prominent bloodstock agent, was quite circumspect about it all and said, “He won’t be the last to do it.”
Rachael Blackmore Finishes Too Soon
If you want a sense of how ‘it could happen to anybody’ might well be true when it comes to jockeys finishing a race too early then you need only look to Rachael Blackmore, who made exactly that mistake in the May of 2023. Having become the first female jockey to win the Grand National and the Gold Cup, you’d think she was all but invincible. In reality, however, Blackmore is just as liable to make a mistake as anyone else. She demonstrated just as much when riding in a three mile handicap hurdle at Kilbeggan, getting to the front at the eighth flight on Lady Rita.
She then took her 10/1 shot into a clear lead as the finish line loomed, pulling up the horse as they crossed the line. The problem was, there was still another lap to go, meaning that others were able to get ahead of her and push her down into an eventual fourth placed finish. She was beaten by 21 lengths, which obviously would’ve been a massive disappointment for her given the things she’d achieved in her career prior to that point. Of course, the fact that she has become the most successful female jockey of all time probably helps to take the edge off the error.
Charlotte Jones Finishes a Circuit Too Early
Rachael Blackmore isn’t the only female jockey to have made the mistake of ending their ride too early. In the same month, Jimmy Moffatt called out the social media trolls who were abusing Charlotte Jones after the jockey got confused about when the race was due to end. She was given three pounds as a conditional jockey and took Moonlight Spirit to the front of the three mile, one and a half furlong Tony Connell Memorial Handicap Hurdle at Cartmel around the top bend. She went to the left to go the finish before realising her mistake and course-correcting.
As she got back into the race, she nearly clipped the heels of The Bobby Dazzler. Moonlight Spirit failed to complete the race, however, after Jones decided to pull the horse up. Moffat, the trainer of the horse for whom Jones was a regular rider, said, “I don’t have to tell her, we move on, it happens. She’s gutted as she’s riding out of her skin at the moment. People make mistakes, we are all human… Nobody goes through life without making mistakes and it’s about time the BHA starts backing the participants within this sport rather than worrying about what the betting industry wants or how it will affect them.”
What Are the Repercussions?
You might well think that a jockey mistakenly finishing the race too early is punishment enough for them, given they’ve not only been humiliated but have also missed out on the associated prize money. In reality, however, there is further ignominy for them to suffer after the fact, with suspensions also being given to the jockeys that do it. In the case of Ben Bromley, for example, the British Horseracing Authority’s stewards charged him with “failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to obtain the best possible placing on a horse that would have finished first.”
The result of that finding was that he was banned for 28 days. A not too dissimilar punishment was meted out to Loughran 17 years earlier. The jockey was banned from taking part in races in Ireland for 14 days. The fact that it was a ban from Irish racing meant that he could still take part in English races, however. One such event was the Queen Mother Champion Chase during the Cheltenham Festival. In the end, however, Central House was ridden by Paul Carberry in the race, coming sixth. Neil Callan, meanwhile, was banned for 12 days for his mistaken decision to stop too soon.
Callan was told that he has breached ‘Rule 151’, which is also known as the ‘Non-triers Rule’. It states that jockeys need to do everything that they can in order to give their horse the best chance of winning or of obtaining a place. Whilst it is easy enough to assume that it is just a mistake, the reality of the world in the age of betting is that no such assumptions can be made. Who can say for certain that none of the jockeys in question hadn’t been offered money by a betting syndicate to throw the race? Obviously we’d hope such a thing wouldn’t happen, but it ins’t unheard of.
For Charlotte Jones, the suspension issued was one for 12 days after having been ‘interviewed and shown recordings of the incident’. Not only that, she was also suspended for a further three days because her attempt to get the horse back into the race meant that she ‘failed to take sufficient steps to avoid causing interference to My Bobby Dazzler’. It added insult to injury for Jones, who seemed to make a mistake, attempted to make up for her mistake and then was doubly punished by the British Horseracing Authority for what went wrong on the track.
One of the most interesting cases was that of Rachael Blackmore. In the wake of her mistake, she was called before the stewards and asked to explain what happened. She claimed that the horse had ‘become lairy’ when taken to the front, easing back as a result. The stewards weren’t totally convinced, but also couldn’t prove anything to the contrary so no ban was issued. The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board didn’t believe it, however, and felt that she was in breach of the rules. As a result, she was given a five-day ban from racing in Ireland but not in the UK.
What Do the Bookies Do?
The obvious question that bettors might ask is what the bookmakers choose to do in such a situation. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, they are usually not all that sympathetic to punters that miss out on a win as a result of a jockey’s mistake. Instead of being generous with their payouts, they just look to see what the official declaration was for the race and payout on that accordingly. After all, they can’t go paying out on wagers according to what might have happened if a jockey hadn’t made an error any more than they can if a player gives away a penalty in a football match.
The exception that proves the rule on that front came in 2022 with the mistake of Ben Bromley. The fact that the race was so close, with the winning horse enjoying its success thanks to a photo-finish, meant that Irish bookmaker Paddy Power decided to refund Win Single wagers Call Me Lord as free bets. It was scant consolation to the punters that had had a wager on the horse with odds of 4/1, but it at least gave them something rather than nothing. For Paddy Power, it earned them good publicity and almost certainly more money in the long-run, which is win-win.
The Judge That Got It Wrong
As if to prove the point around how difficult it is to know when you’re supposed to finish the race, a result was reversed at Sandown Racecourse after it emerged that the judge had based his decision on a photo finish on a picture from the wrong winning post. The £75,000 EBF Final was run over two miles and four furlongs, with judge Paul Champion calling One For Rosie the winner after the photo-finish operator gave him a photo of the horses at the incorrect finish line. That is the issue with Sandown having one finish line for hurdles and another one for chase events.
The result ended up being reversed after a lengthy delay, with Third Wind called the winner. It left bookmakers infuriated after having paid out on One For Rosie, even though the declaration that the horses had been weighed-in hadn’t been made. The company behind the photo-finish technology, Racetech, had two cameras, both of which were supposed to be focussed on the same finish line. Instead, each was focussed on a different one and that was how the mistake was allowed to happen. Proof, were it needed, that no one is perfect and errors are common.