Apologies all round as Wetherby gets its distances wrong

Jonjo Sanderson, Chief Executive of Wetherby Racecourse.
Jonjo Sanderson, Chief Executive of Wetherby Racecourse.
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wetherby chief executive Jonjo Sanderson apologised last night to trainers and racegoers after it emerged that horses had been competing over inaccurate distances at the West Yorkshire track for the past five years.

The racecourse has accepted censure from the British Horseracing Authority after the sport’s ruling body admitted that it was “involved in the processes” which led to emergency alterations to the track’s configuration in 2009.

Changes to start positions are now being introduced prior to tomorrow’s jumps fixture at Wetherby after it emerged that races staged over four of the available 12 distances at the track had been either too long or too short for five seasons.

The discrepancies were confirmed by the BHA yesterday following a detailed inspection which was sparked by a number of ‘course records’ at the recent Charlie Hall meeting which appeared to be at odds with the conditions – and the pace at which the races were run.

These included the prestigious Charlie Hall Chase which was won by Menorah, whose jockey, Richard Johnson, was among those on the day to be surprised to learn that the track record had been broken.

It has emerged that the race was 78 yards short of the minimum distance for the £100,000 race to comply with its advertised distance of three miles and one furlong. The start is to be moved 84 yards further back.

In contrast, the West Yorkshire Hurdle, won by rising star Gavin Sheehan aboard top prospect Cole Harden, was found to be 38 yards longer than the parameters that are used for races to be classed as three miles and one furlong. Its start is now being moved forward by 125 yards so such races comply with the official distance description in the future.

Changes are also being made to two other race distances – the one-mile-and-five-furlong Bumper course and two-and-a-half-mile hurdle course.

Though all racecourses are allowed by the BHA to move running rails in order to assist with their husbandry of the track, and particularly during inclement weather, they still have to comply with certain criteria that govern ‘official distances’ and the Yorkshire track has fallen foul of these rules.

Wetherby’s changes date back to 2009 when the hurdle and chase courses were modified on the bend past the winning post in response to concerns about false and waterlogged ground in front of the Millennium Stand.

Though no owners, trainers or jockeys have questioned the length of races in the intervening five years, Sanderson accepted that the situation was unsatisfactory – even though the inaccuracies were not as great as some racing analysts had claimed.

“Wetherby wishes to acknowledge its part in this unfortunate error and apologises to all parties affected by this since 2009. Furthermore, we are naturally extremely grateful that this discrepancy has been brought to our attention,” he said.

“In order to rectify this issue, the BHA and Wetherby have spent a great deal of time since the bet365 Charlie Hall meeting concluded remeasuring the hurdle and steeplechase tracks in order to ensure that, going forward, races are staged over their official distance.”

In its own report, the BHA said that race distances should have been remeasured five years ago and this did not take place “due to an oversight”.

BHA director of raceday operations and regulation Jamie Stier accepted the situation was “unacceptable” because “accuracy of information is crucial to both punters and licensed persons”.

He added: “However, it is the view of BHA that the scale of the inaccuracy is not sufficient for any retrospective action to be required in terms of the results of any of the races in question.

“In the case of Wetherby, we do not think it is appropriate that any further action should be taken against the racecourse.

“While technically under the rules it is the racecourse’s responsibility to ensure that distances are accurate, BHA were involved in the processes which gave rise to the issues at Wetherby. We acknowledge our responsibility for this as well as our responsibility to ensure public confidence in this regard.”