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Non Raceday Inquiry RIU v C Ferguson - Written Decision dated 13 July 2018 - Chair, Prof G Hall

Created on 17 July 2018

BEFORE A JUDICIAL COMMITTEE OF

THE JCA AT DUNEDIN

UNDER THE RACING ACT 2003

AND IN THE MATTER of the New Zealand Rules of Harness Racing

BETWEEN RACING INTEGRITY UNIT (RIU)

Informant

AND MR CRAIG FERGUSON

Open Horseman

Respondent

Information: A10445

Judicial Committee: Prof G Hall, Chairman

Appearing: Mr V Munro, Stipendiary Steward, for the Informant

The Respondent in person

Date of hearing and oral decision: 12 July 2018

Date of written decision: 13 July 2018

WRITTEN DECISION OF JUDICIAL COMMITTEE

[1] The informant, the RIU, has laid an Information with respect to the respondent, Mr C Ferguson, the driver of the horse ROZANNO in Race 7 at the Forbury Park racecourse on 21 June 2018. The Information alleges a breach of r 868(3) in that he "failed to drive the horse out to the end of the race when he had a reasonable chance of finishing 3rd ".

[2] ROZANNO is trained by Mr Ferguson and finished the race in 4th place.

[3] Rule 868(3) provides: “Every horseman shall drive his horse out to the end of the race if he has any reasonable chance of finishing first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth.”

[4] Mr Munro tabled a letter from Mr M Godber, the General Manager of the RIU, dated 9 July 2018 which authorises him pursuant to r 1108(2) to lay the charge alleging a breach of r 868(3).

[5] Mr Ferguson has signed the Information indicating that he admits the breach and he confirmed this at the hearing.

[6] The charge under s 868(3) is thus found to be proved.

The breach

[7] Mr Ferguson was driver/trainer of his horse ROZANNO which drew barrier #1 in race 7, a mobile 2200 metre race.

[8] Mr Ydgren, Chief Stipendiary Steward, identified the horse on the videos. The race was played in full.

[9] ROZANNO received what the Stewards described as “a great run in the trail for the entire race until the home straight where she was afforded an uninterrupted run into the passing lane.”

[10] At around the 400 metres Mr Ferguson momentarily lost the back of the leading horse. Between the 400 metres and the home turn, Mr Ferguson was beginning to urge his horse with the reins.

[11] As the field entered the home straight, Mr Ferguson reached down and pulled the cord for the deafeners. Mr Ferguson then used his whip to strike his horse on 5 occasions, accompanied by some urgings until the 40-metre mark.

[12] Mr Ferguson then tucked his whip away and offered no other ways of encouraging his horse over these final 40 metres of the race.

[13] The first and second horse had put a couple of lengths on the field. Four horses were finishing to the outside of Mr Ferguson and the RIU stated that it was the widest horse of these four that had “bombed him” on the line.

[14] The official margin between 3rd and 4th was half a neck.

[15] Mr Munro reiterated that the respondent had just sat in the cart over the last 40 metres and had not urged the horse at all.

[16] Mr Ferguson commented that ROZANNO had held her position in the home straight much better than he had expected she would. He had felt that the horse was struggling when coming off the back bend. She had hit a marker peg at that time.

[17] Mr Ferguson said he had given the horse 5 with the stick and she had not found anything. She was a consistent horse that usually finished in the first half of the field and it felt like she was struggling on the day.

[18] Mr Ferguson stated he believed the horse would be “swamped” by the runners coming down both the middle and the outside of the track and would finish 7th or 8th. He thought she would be well and truly beaten and was very surprised when he found that the horse was in the call and had finished 4th.

[19] Mr Ferguson said he had stopped hitting the horse because she was “really struggling”. He still believed “she had not gone that good” and that the horses finishing down the outside had “gone ordinary”.

[20] When questioned by this Committee as to why he had just sat quietly in the cart not encouraging the horse, he said it was a misjudgement on his part and he was trying to save the horse undue stress. The horse had raced poorly next start and he had since found an issue and had had her treated.

Penalty Submissions

[21] Mr Ferguson was described by the RIU as a busy Southland driver, who ventures north on regular occasions.

[22] The starting point for a breach of r 868(3) is determined by a sliding scale and where the placing in question is 3rd, the figure is $500 or 10 drives.

[23] The respondent’s record is: lifetime drives 1987; 17/18 season - 272; 16/17 - 319; 15/16 - 426; 14/15 – 419.

[24] Mr Ferguson has had no previous breaches of this rule.

[25] Mr Munro said Mr Ferguson had clearly made an error of judgment. His horse had come to the end of its run, however he was still obliged to drive horse out to the finishing line, and there were ways of doing this other than striking the horse with the whip.

[26] The Stewards submitted a fine around the $350 mark would be appropriate in this instance.

[27] Mr Ferguson stated that he preferred a fine to a suspension and emphasised it was an error of judgment in that he had been too cautious with respect to the horse’s welfare. He was the trainer of the horse and drove her regularly and he could tell that she was not a 100% right.

Decision as to penalty

[28] Mr Ferguson has admitted a breach of r 868(3) in circumstances where he has sat quietly in the cart on ROZANNO from the 40 metres mark and the horse has been beaten for 3rd by half a neck. He has said he had concerns as to the welfare of the horse and had been surprised by the fact she had held on for 4th. He openly admitted that he had misjudged the speed with which the horses to his outside were finishing.

[29] The breach is mid-range and the $500 starting point in the Penalty Guide is appropriate. There is a need to hold the respondent accountable and to uphold the integrity of harness racing. Those persons who had backed the horse for a place or to run 3rd in combination betting have been adversely affected by the respondent’s actions.

[30] Mr Ferguson has an excellent record, has co-operated with the Stewards and admitted the breach at the earliest opportunity.

[31] These personal mitigating factors merit a discount of $150 from the starting point.

[32] Mr Ferguson is fined the sum of $350.

Dated at Dunedin this 13th day of July 2018.

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