Result of an Appeal (C. Soumillon) heard by the Disciplinary Panel on Thursday 14 July 2022

Result of an Appeal (C. Soumillon) heard by the Disciplinary Panel on Thursday 14 July 2022

26/07/2022 @ 12:00:00

Christophe Soumillon

Before the independent Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) : An Appeal by the licensed jockey Mr Christophe Soumillon against the finding of the Stewards at Sandown Park Racecourse on the 2 July 2022 to impose a penalty of 12 days suspension for an admitted breach of the Rules of Racing ie Careless Riding.

1] The Race:
This was the Group 1 Coral Eclipse (Class 1) (Group 1) (British Champions Series).  The Appellant rode VADENI (FR) the winner.  After the finish line there was an incident in which there was clear and significant interference from the winner to NATIVE TRAIL (ridden by William Buick) and LORD NORTH (IRE) (ridden by James Doyle).  This occurred when the Appellant was celebrating his momentous victory, rising in the saddle with one arm raised and off the reins.  The horse drifted right across the course impacting upon 2 horses on the right between him and the rail, respectively NATIVE TRAIL and LORD NORTH (IRE).  NATIVE TRAIL was pushed right onto the rail and onto LORD NORTH (IRE) who was also forced against the rail.
2] The Stewards Enquiry:
The Stewards concluded that “Mr Soumillon was suspended for 12 days for careless riding when making a celebratory gesture and leaving only one hand on the rein, allowed his mount to drift right causing considerable interference to both NATIVE TRAIL and LORD NORTH (IRE), with Mr Buick becoming short of room and having to take a check, resulting in LORD NORTH (IRE) on the inside being severely tightened up against the rail with Mr Doyle taking a significant check to avoid the heels of NATIVE TRAIL”.
3] The Appeal:
The Appellant appealed on a discrete basis.  He did not dispute that he was responsible for careless riding nor did he dispute that there was considerable interference.  He contended quite simply that the penalty of 12 days suspension in the context of an accepted guideline range of 5 -14 days was too severe.
4] The Appeal Hearing:
Ms Charlotte Davison represented the BHA in the zoom hearing.  The Appellant who is Belgian speaks excellent English.  He represented himself.  As in all cases of an unrepresented party opposed by a qualified experienced lawyer, it was explained to the Appellant that having full regard to fairness to all he would be assisted by the Chairman as to the process of the hearing and as to a full opportunity to put his case before the Panel.  There was no objection to the constitution of the Panel.
No witness evidence was called by Ms Davison based on the sensible conclusion as to the limited areas of dispute and the fact that the video footage which we watched from all angles at different speeds repeatedly told its own story.  We heard evidence from the Appellant who was cross examined by Ms Davison.

5] Common Ground:
There was no dispute:
A) that this was careless riding;
B) that there was considerable interference to 2 horses;
C) that the relevant guideline range of penalty was 5 - 14 days;
D) that as the Appellant accepted, he did not enjoy watching the video footage ie he accepted that he was responsible for a serious incident;
E) that the gravamen of the offence occurred after the finish and that there was no legitimate criticism of his riding in the race itself.
6] Penalty Guidelines:
“1. In judging the effect the Panel should take into consideration the general effect on the sufferer which includes
  • the degree of danger
  • the loss of opportunity to challenge for prize-money
  • the loss of prize-money
  • it is import that all these aspects of the effect on the sufferers are taken into account when deciding on the penalty - one or other of the above effects should increase the penalty by one or even two days.
2: Penalty should increase when *the horse hangs or drifts for a long period when it ought to have been obvious that uncorrected interference would result* the rider is coming from behind and able (sic) to assist what is in front of him.
3: Indirect Interference... (n/a)
4: When a rider is brought down the Panel should start in considerable with an entry penalty off the bottom.  Actual injuries sustained by a fallen horse or rider should not be taken into account, the fall is enough;
5: It is impossible to cover every eventuality and therefore the level of penalty should be varied to suit the circumstances.”
We took all Guidelines into account. Some of them are clearly predicated upon riding in the course of the race itself as opposed to the situation here where the incident occurred after all the horses concerned had crossed the finishing line. Further it is clear generally and in particular having regard to 5 above that the Panel have discretion within the 5 to 14 days range, particularly in an unusual if not exceptional case.

7] The Respective Cases / Issues:
For the BHA:
That the Stewards were right.  This was careless riding at the highest end of gravity.  That whereas no criticism is to be made of celebration per se that here the lack of care in the Appellant’s conduct in his celebration created a significant risk to the safety of horses and jockeys and therefore it was deserving of a sanction right at the upper end of the range.  That the winning horse had drifted right before the line and thus by inference this was the continued course of riding over a significant period of time in the context of such a race.
For the Appellant:
That he was far from proud of his riding after the finish; that he understood that he deserved to be penalised but that a suspension of 12 days the most severe imposed on a Jockey under Rules in the year was excessive; that this was not a case of deliberate riding for prize money advantage in a race; that he had immediately admitted the offence and apologised and thereafter contacted the trainers concerned out of concern for the welfare of the horses; that the configuration of the course, particularly after the finishing line, had been a contributory factor.
8] Our Findings:
I- the Appellant was responsible for a serious incident where there was significant risk to the safety of horses and riders;
II- that his immediate and continued conduct ever since in acceptance of fault and apology demonstrates good insight and remorse.  We do not think he will ever behave thus in future;
III – The BHA are entirely right to agree with the Panel that there is nothing wrong with celebration in itself. Horseracing is a sport which like other sports sometimes involves extreme emotion, joy and excitement, not only as to the immediate competitors but also as to the racing public. Celebration is part of the sport.  However it should be conducted with the same duty of care as to riding generally;
IV- Mitigation which we accepted: that there was no fault in the Appellant’s riding in the race itself : in particular and with respect we disagreed with the assertion made by the BHA that he culpably allowed the horse to drift before the finishing line and that by inference that he was or may have been already celebrating at that stage ; that he could not necessarily have been expected to be aware of the presence of two as opposed to one horse on his inside nearer the rail, on close examination of the footage LORD NORTH (IRE) was from the appellant’s position covered up by NATIVE TRAIL and was a ½ length to a length further behind ; that this was momentary carelessness ; that his emotions in what was a momentous victory got the better of his judgement.
Mitigation which we did not accept : that the configuration of the course was a contributing factor; in any event it is the obligation of the rider to acquaint himself fully with the course.
V- Taking into account the 5 - 14 days range and all the aggravating and mitigating circumstances we allow the Appeal and impose a penalty of 8 days suspension.

Notes to Editors:

1. The Panel for the Appeal was: HH James O'Mahony, Alison Royston and Jodie Mogford. 

Please note, the BHA Judicial Panel is an independent body which encompasses the Disciplinary Panel, Appeal Board and Licensing Committee. It receives administrative support from the BHA via the Judicial Panel Secretary. 
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