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Non Raceday Inquiry RIU v M Hurrell - Written Decision dated 6 May 2021 - Chair, Prof G Hall

Created on 07 May 2021

BEFORE A JUDICIAL COMMITTEE OF

THE JUDICIAL CONTROL AUTHORITY

IN INVERCARGILL

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 MARK HURRELL

Junior Horseman

Respondent

Information: A10675

Judicial Committee:  Prof G Hall, Chairman

Mr P Knowles, Member

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

The Respondent in person, with the assistance of Mr J Cox, Licensed Trainer / Driver

Date of hearing /oral decision: 2 May 2021

Date of written decision: 6 May 2021

WRITTEN DECISION OF JUDICIAL COMMITTEE

[1] An Information was filed by Stipendiary Steward, Mr Munro, against Junior Driver, Mr M Hurrell, alleging a breach of r 869(3)(g) in that “as the driver of ULTIMATE SASSENACH in Race 12 at the Waikouaiti TC’s meeting held 28 February 2021, he drove in a manner capable of diminishing his horse’s chances of winning by failing to ease his drive on three occasions during the race prior to the 800 metres when leading, so as to give ULTIMATE SASSENACH some respite which would thereby enable the mare to finish the race off in the most competitive manner possible.”

[2] Rule 869(3)(g) reads: “No driver in any race shall drive in any manner capable of diminishing the chances of his horse winning.”

[3] The charge was heard as a Non-Raceday hearing at the Invercargill Harness Racing Club’s meeting at Invercargill on 2 May 2021.

[4] Mr Hurrell indicated on the signed Information that he admitted the breach and confirmed this at the hearing. He was assisted by Mr J Cox.

Informant’s case

[5] With reference to the video, Mr Munro provided the following written summary of facts:

1. Mr Hurrell was the driver of ULTIMATE SASSENACH in Race 12 at the Waikouaiti TC meeting on 28 February 2021 at the Oamaru Racecourse.

2. Mr Hurrell’s charge drew #2 over a Mobile 2000 metre race. As the start was effected, Mr Hurrell has urged his runner forward to the lead and held off a stiff challenge from #6 CALYPSO ROCK until entering the first bend, where Mr Dunn driving CALYPSO ROCK has eased.

3. Near the 1650 metre mark Mr Dunn has again tried for the lead. Again, Mr Hurrell is urgent in the sulky, reining his horse up to hold the lead.

4. Shortly after the 900 metres, Mr Dunn has allowed his runner to slide forward and be on equal terms with Mr Hurrell, who again becomes urgent in the sulky and, shortly after the 800-metre mark, he attempts to pull the Removeable Deafeners.

5. Near the 400-metre mark, ULTIMATE SASSENACH is spent and retreating quickly to the rear of the field. Shortly thereafter she is down to a walk and is taken off the track through the Birdcage gate without finishing the race.

6. The overall time was similar to the other 2000 metre Mobiles on the day, but the first 1200 metres was 3 seconds quicker in comparison, therefore eventuating in a slower last 800 metres, again in comparison.

7. A post-race Veterinary examination revealed no abnormalities as to why ULTIMATE SASSENACH had retreated so quickly.

8. A summary of ULTIMATE SASSENACH’s previous races showed that the only time the horse is competitive is when it is driven with cover for one run. In the previous 12 mobile starts for the Trainer, Ms A Hoffman, ULTIMATE SASSENACH has never shown or been used for any early speed to gain a forward position.

9. When spoken to regarding his drive, Mr Hurrell confirmed that the stable tactics were to lead. He further admitted it was a poor drive not to hand up at some stage.

10. Mr Hurrell had options available to him, and on each of the three occasions when CALYPSO ROCK tried for the lead, he could have restrained his runner to take a trail, rather to lead at all costs, which was ultimately was detrimental to his horse’s chances.

11. Mr Hurrell has clearly driven his horse beyond its capabilities in what it had shown prior to and since that race.

[6] Mr Munro commented orally on the summary. He said Mr Dunn had tried to get in and trail Mr Hurrell, but he could not do so as “his horse had other ideas”. He said ULTIMATE SASSENACH was a spent force after the 600 metres, weakened out, and was down to a walk.

[7] Mr Munro said that when interviewed after the race Mr Hurrell had said he did not want to drive ULTIMATE SASSENACH like that, but the trainer had said they wanted to try to lead the whole way. He said Mr Hurrell was visibly upset at this time because of the pressure he was under.

Respondent’s submissions

[8] Mr Hurrell stated that whilst he knew the ultimate responsibility for his drive rested with him, he was following instructions from the stable. The trainer had told him to try to lead the whole way as she did not believe it was giving of its best when raced in behind, and an employee at the stable had told him to “lead at all costs”. He would otherwise have handed up the lead to Mr Dunn.

[9] Mr Hurrell stated he did not want to drive in the manner he had in the race. He said he was under extreme pressure at the time of the drive and after the race he was so upset by what had transpired in the race, that he felt sick. He said he had previously been criticised by the stable employee for allegedly not following his driving instructions. He added that this employee had been happy with his drive on this occasion.

[10] Mr Cox said Mr Hurrell was in “a hard place”. He said he had also driven a stable runner in the race, and he had thought his drive had a good chance of winning, as had the stable. His drive was the favourite in the betting. He had had driving instructions for his horse from the same stable employee that had instructed Mr Hurrell. Mr Cox said he had run second in the race “fair and square”. Another stable runner had won the race. He was not surprised at the time that Mr Hurrell was trying to lead as he did not know that horse’s form.

[11] Mr Hurrell concluded his submission by apologising for the drive and stating he never wished to be placed in this position again. He said he had had issues with the instruction to lead at all costs, and he had subsequently left the stable. He was no longer based in Waikouaiti and was now in Wyndham.

Penalty submissions

[12] Mr Munro identified the starting point in the JCA Penalty Guide for a breach of r 869(3)(g) as a 40-drive suspension or a $2000 fine.

[13] Mr Hurrell has had 1356 lifetime drives; 320 last season and 318 this current season. He is a leading South Island Junior Driver.

[14] Mr Hurrell has an excellent record with no previous breaches of this Rule.

[15] Mr Hurrell has made a full and frank admission at his first opportunity with regards his drive and the circumstances around it.

[16] The betting patterns on the stable runners showed no abnormalities.

[17] The main aggravating factor is that the horse ULTIMATE SASSENACH was the second favourite in an 11-horse field. Therefore, the betting public were denied a return on their investments.

[18] Further, in any case where a driver is given instructions from the Connections, simply obeying these instructions isn't a defence as drivers are required to display good judgement based on the prevailing circumstances. In this case Mr Hurrell has erred significantly.

[19] Mr Hurrell has had 318 drives this season at 79 individual race meetings, which equates to 4.025 drives per meeting. Therefore, the RIU submitted a suspension of 6 to 7 days was appropriate.

[20] Mr Cox asked the Committee to consider that Mr Hurrell is a busy Junior Driver who was under enormous pressure from the stable at the time. He reiterated that Mr Hurrell was distraught after the drive.

Decision as to penalty

[21] Mr Hurrell has hunted ULTIMATE SASSENACH out of the gate to take the lead and has failed to hand up to Mr Dunn, despite having opportunities to do so. The horse obtained no respite during the race and was a spent force before the 400 metres. The horse retreated through the field and, after being down to a walk, was taken off the track without finishing the race.

[22] The key consideration when imposing penalty under r 869(3)(g) is the need to uphold the integrity of Harness Racing. In this regard, the JCA Penalty Guide provides a 40-drive suspension or a $2000 fine as the starting point. Neither party submitted that a fine was appropriate for this particular breach, and we agree with this assessment. Significantly, the RIU investigation into betting patterns in the race in question evidenced no abnormalities.

[23] Mr Hurrell is a Junior Driver, albeit quite an experienced one. However, we cannot fail to have regard to the background circumstances that underpin his drive. His reaction after the race supports this consideration. Mr Munro has emphasised to us that Mr Hurrell was visibly upset by his drive when the Stipendiary Stewards questioned him.

The circumstances of this breach are unusual. Clearly, stable instructions placed Mr Hurrell under a great deal of pressure. This was further accentuated by a stable employee, who had been highly critical of Mr Hurrell’s failure to follow instructions in the past, stating and reinforcing to him that he was to lead “at all costs”. But Mr Hurrell is correct, of course, when he says the responsibility for the drive rests with him. His admission of the breach and his expression of contrition to the Committee confirm this.

[24] When regard is had to the seriousness of the breach and the Respondent’s degree of culpability, and factoring in his very good record, the appropriate penalty is a 28-drive suspension.

[25] Mr Hurrell has on average 4 drives a meeting. He asked us to defer the commencement of his suspension until after racing on 8 May. The Stewards had no objection to this.

[26] Mr Hurrell is suspended from the end of racing on 8 May up to and including 21 May. This penalty is calculated in accordance with the Penalty Guide and is in effect 7 days.

Costs

[27] The matter was heard before the first race on raceday. There is no award of costs in favour of the RIU or the JCA.

Dated at Dunedin this 6th day of May 2021.

Geoff Hall, Chairman

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