Murrihy flags changes
By ADAM HICKS
RACING stewards are considering changing the way jockeys causing fatal falls are charged, NSW chief steward Ray Murrihy told The Northern Star.
This follows public concern over the three-month suspension of 16-year-old Ballina apprentice jockey Joshua Jones for careless riding, causing the fall that killed Daniel Baker.
Jones was no stranger to stewards before the fatal accident at Grafton on December 2.
In a career spanning 18 months, Jones had been suspended eight times (once in Queensland) and reprimanded five times (once in Queensland) for careless riding, before he shifted in at the 200m mark aboard Concitare, causing Baker’s mount Hotshot Hayil to crash to the turf.
Murrihy said that despite the long rap sheet, the three-month suspension was not lenient.
“It is the harshest penalty in modern times in racing,” Murrihy said.
“The difficulty of all that is the rule doesn’t contemplate the fact that it’s causing death. The offence he was found guilty of was careless riding.
“What you have to understand is the stewards are not determining the matter as a criminal court might.
“People not in racing can’t understand.
“Stewards are a consensual disciplinary tribunal and their role is different to a criminal charge brought by a prosecutor.
“Our particular role is not a punitive one. It’s one that’s protective of the public and profession. The court’s role is punitive. It requires much higher burden of proof and standard of proof and other elements such as intent.
“When stewards found Jones guilty of careless riding, he was found guilty under a rule that doesn’t contemplate the tragic consequences of that action.
“It is not necessary for stewards to prove intent.
“They don’t approach it as a statute in a criminal court such as a case of culpable driving causing death. So when they approach it they’re dealing with elements of careless riding.”
Speaking to The Star after attending the National Chairman of Stewards Advisory Group in Brisbane this week, Murrihy said the rules of racing may need to be changed.
“There may be an arguable case that the rules need to contemplate that (offences causing death),” he said.
“Perhaps there could be an offence in riding for causing death or serious injury and maybe that’s an approach that could be taken and that’s something that we discussed today (in the advisory group).
“Ultimately, we will take some advice on that and ultimately it will be up to the Australian Racing Board.”
Murrihy said he also raised the issue of Jones’ three-month suspension.
“I was with a group of people who control racing around the country. I raised the issue and asked if anyone had ever heard of three months or more for careless riding and the answer was no,” he said.
In regard to Jones’ riding future, Murrihy said the stewards would not ‘abandon the young man’.
“We have every sympathy for Daniel Baker’s mum who has handled this matter with a lot of dignity. But it won’t bring Daniel back to crucify another life,” Murrihy said.
“Everyone has to understand there’s a lot of emotion attached to this ... but we have to move on and give this young man (Jones) some space so we don’t ruin another life.
“If you say someone with 10 careless riding charges should be banned from riding, Darren Beadman wouldn’t be riding; Jim Cassidy wouldn’t be riding.
“There are a good many riders across Australia who have been in the unfortunate circumstance of causing a fall and when a rider falls it becomes a circumstance of luck if the felled rider is killed.
“You can’t just draw a conclusion that because a death has happened, the blame attached to that fall is any different to one that doesn’t (result in death).
“It is only that luck determines what happens to a rider once they’re in that very perilous position.”
However, Murrihy said he could understand all the publicity the Jones case had attracted.
“In this particular matter, what has to be remembered is there was no finding there was any intent to go out and cause injury or the fall, or death,” Murrihy said.
“A whole series of remedial action has been put in place as well as disciplinary action. He is being managed by Ron Quinton (former leading jockey and riding tutor with the Riding Skills Panel) and also there’s checks and balances to be adhered to for the competencies when Josh resumes.
“It is certainly not a matter of a man who has offended and coming back with a clean slate. But having said that we want to do something that’s proactive and corrects the riding skills and lack of skills.”
Following the Grafton fall, but before the stewards’ inquiry that subsequently charged Jones, he was charged and suspended for one month for causing jockey Glyn Schofield to fall at Wyong on December 19.
Before that suspension kicked in, Jones was involved in a protest in Sydney that led to him being referred to the Riding Skills Panel.
The panel is a practice introduced to Australia by Murrihy, where experienced jockeys provide mentoring and remedial training for younger jockeys in an attempt to stop careless and undisciplined riding.
Jones’ one other referral to the panel came before the accident but Murrihy said he did not know the date of that referral.
“Since that time (the first referral), I’m not aware of how many suspensions there have been; he (Jones) may have been suspended one or two times after that,” he said.
In an earlier interview with The Star, Murrihy read from the rules of racing:
“The stewards may punish any apprentice referred who fails or refuses to attend, or refuses to apply with, or fulfil and direction of the panel.
“They may suspend or limit in any way the permission to ride in races if they find any aspect of any apprentice rider’s technique or method, may be a hazard to the rider or other riders.”
This week, Murrihy denied that stewards should have taken further action to address Jones’ technique before the fatal fall.
“There is no guarantee that simply because he’s had remedial training that he is going to have a clean record,” he said.
“Horses will shift in every race, every day. If they shift and cause interference the rider is required to take immediate action.
“You have a 500kg horse – you’ll never see one keep a perfectly straight line – and you have a 50kg jockey who is required to steer them around to avoid accidents.
“At least 50 per cent of interference is caused by horses that shift ground despite riders trying to correct them.”
Despite Jones’ poor record, Murrihy said stewards could not have prevented the accident.
“I’d like you to point to me where stewards have done any more,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s a case of anyone having two referrals before.
“He (Jones) has committed an act of careless riding. On Saturday two successful jockeys faced exactly the same charge.
“We’re talking about a boy and that’s what people should remember – a person who has worked with stewards and with his master, and is being assisted.”
The NSW Minister for Gaming and Racing, Graham West, would not comment on the issue.
His spokesman Phillip Kelly refused to put The Star’s questions to him, saying stewarding issues were outside the Minister’s authority.
“All the Racing Acts specifically prohibit the Minister having anything to do with stewards,” Kelly said.