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19 Mar 2020
Harness-Racing-Waikato - R3

Waikato-BOP H 19 March 2020 - R 3 - Chair, Mr A Godsalve

Created on 23 March 2020

Rules:
Rule 868(2)
Committee:
AGodsalve (chair)
ADooley
Name(s):
Ms M Northcott-Advanced Amateur Horsewoman
Informant
Mr S Mulcay - Senior Stipendiary Steward
Information Number
A12239
Plea:
Admitted
Charge:
Fails to take all reasonable and permissible measures
Evidence:

Following the running of Race 3 Mr Mulcay submitted an Information in which he alleged Ms M Northcott, driver of COUNT LANDECK, 'failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures during the middle stages to ensure her horse was given full oportunity to win or obtain the best possible finishing position by electing to remain three wide without cover rather than restrain to the rear'.

Ms Northcott was present at the hearing and acknowleged that:

(a) She understood the Rule, and

(b) She admitted the breach.

Rule 868(2) provides that 'Every driver shall take all reasonable and permissible measures at all times during the race to ensure that his horse is given full opportunity to win the race or to obtain the best possible position and/or finishing place'.

Using the films Mr Mulcay identified the horse COUNT LANDECK, driven by Ms Northcott. This race was restricted to Amateur drivers and was over the distance of 2200 metres. COUNT LANDECK started from position 6 behind the mobile barrier. Mr Mulcay pointed out that COUNT LANDECK was in a 3 wide position at the rear as the field entered the back straight the first time. The horse VAN HALEN was inside COUNT LANDECK and was in a 2 wide position . Mr Mulcay said that this was the beginning of the area of concern for the Stewards regarding Ms Northcott's handling of the horse. He pointed out that Ms Northcott had the opportunity to either go forward to attempt to gain a better position, or to restrain the horse and go to the rear. He added that the Stewards believed the best measure for COUNT LANDECK was to be restrained and taken to the rear of the field. Mr Mulcay said that in doing nothing and remaining 3 wide for a considerable distance Ms Northcott had covered more distance than she needed to. He added that Ms Northcott had failed to gain the best possible position for the horse, and it eventually was a spent force after being 4-5 wide approaching the home turn. Mr Mulcay said that the failure to obtain the best position for the horse was an unreasonable act by Ms Northcott and had therefore led to the charge laid.

At this point in the hearing, after viewing the film and hearing Mr Mulcay's submissions, the Chairman advised Ms Northcott that the charge she was facing was a serious matter and asked if she would prefer to take some advice before she presented her submissions. Ms Northcott took advantage of that opportunity and said she would discuss the matter with Mr P Ferguson, a Senior driver.

When the hearing resumed Ms Northcott said that she had spoken to Mr Ferguson, however he was unavailable to be at the hearing. She said that she was prepared to carry on with the hearing.

Ms Northcott said that the connections of COUNT LANDECK had advised her that the horse had been 'driven off the gate' in previous starts and had asked that she drove it from the back this time. She added that while the horse was strong she had been unable to push the horse inside her, VAN HALEN, down so that she could get a better position. In answer to a question from the Committee, Ms Northcott said that while the horse was strong it was not uncontrollable. She acknowledged that she had not attempted to restrain the horse to 'drop it back'.

At this point Mr Mulcay said that Ms Northcott had not attempted to restrain the horse and drop back, and in doing so and remaining in a 3 wide position was not acceptable.

Decision:

As Ms Northcott has admitted the breach the charge is proved.

Submission For Penalty:

Mr Mulcay advised the Committee that Ms Northcott had previously had 3 raceday drives this season, that she had admitted the breach, and that she did not have any prior breaches of this Rule recorded against her. He said that the JCA Penalty Guide provided a starting point of a $1000 fine or a suspension of 20 drives for a breach of this Rule. Mr Mulcay quoted the decison of another driver - Mr K - who had breached this Rule and was suspended for a total of 7 months - which was affirmed in an Appeal decison. He said that this penalty decision was applicable to all drivers who drove in races if they breached this Rule. He added that Ms Northcott had been very frank in her admission of this breach, and said that the Stewards placed the breach at the low-mid range. He said that she should have made a greater effort to give the public a better run from the horse.

Ms Northcott asked that the Committee consider a '1/2 and 1/2' penalty, i.e. a fine and a suspension.

Reasons For Penalty:

The Committee took advantage of the opportunity to review the viedo films independently.

It was apparent that COUNT LANDECK began reasonably well from the mobile, and was restrained to the rear by Ms Northcott. Entering the back straight the first time the horse was in a 3 wide position, and it was apparent that Ms Northcott had not made any attempt to either go forward or restrain the horse to gain a better position. It was also clear that for the next lap Ms Northcott held the horse in that position, 3 wide, with no effort whatsoever to improve forward or drop back one position to the rear of the field. It was not unreasonable to expect Ms Northcott to ease or restrain COUNT LANDECK behind A BETTOR DANCER to obtain a far better position. We noted that nearing the home straight COUNT LANDECK made some ground under urgings from Ms Northcott, however he was at least 5 wide into the straight, and not surprisingly weakened out to eventually finish second last after having the whip applied several times.

From our observations the Committee determined that we could not agree with Mr Mulcay, and we deemed that the incident was mid-high range. The Committee checked Ms Northcott's historical driving record on the HRNZ website. This showed that Ms Northcott has had just 4 drives this season over a period of 8 months. Further, in the prior season Ms Northcott had no drives at all and the season before just 1 drive. In total since 2012 Ms Northcott has had 17 wins as a Amateur driver from 111 drives.

The mitigating factors were Ms Northcott's admission of the breach and her clear record under this Rule. A modest discount from the JCA Penalty Guide starting point was applied.

The fact that Ms Northcott has had only 4 drives this season, none the season before, and 1 the season prior to that is inconsequential in determining her culpability. This was a very poor drive, not one to be expected from a person of Ms Northcott's maturity and experience. And further, the fact that Ms Northcott persisted with being 'posted' 3 wide for almost 2 rounds of the track was, in our opinion unfathomable and unreasonable.  To put it bluntly, the betting public who had supported the horse did not get a run for their money.

The JCA Penalty Guide has a starting point of a 20 drive suspension or a $1000 fine for a breach of this Rule. Committees in the past have used a combination of these penalties where the situation calls for it. In Ms Northcott's case, with only having had very limited drives in the past 2 years, if we were to base a suspension on that alone we could have been faced with considering a suspension of her driving licence for 1-2 years; clearly not appropriate. Ms Northcott had informed the Committee that the stable she is associated with has very few horses to race in races which she may be able to drive in. We took guidance from the penalty of 7 months imposed on driver 'K' as referred to by Mr Mulcay. This Committee is aware of that decision and the circumstances involved. We also took note of several other penalties imposed by Committees, particuarly involving Amateur drivers which involved a suspension of 'months' and fines. Committees are expected to impose meaningful penalties, i.e. penalties which have an effect on the respondent. To simply suspend Ms Northcott from driving for several months when she has been driving very sparingly would not, in our mind, be meaningful as she may only miss the opportunity to drive once or twice. Penalties are not intended to solely punish the offender but must also act as a deterrent to other drivers.

We therefore determined that her penalty would involve a fine, and a suspension. As an Amateur we accept that Ms Northcott does not earn any income from driving and have factored that into our calculations as to the amount of a fine. We deemed that a $500 fine would be an appropriate penalty.

Penalty:

Accordingly we suspend Ms Northcott's licence to drive in races from the end of racing on 19 March 2020 until the end of racing on 17 September 2020-6 months. In addition we impose a fine of $500 on Ms Northcott.

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