Landmark ruling in Tasmanian Cup inquiry

By Adam Hamilton 

Almost six weeks after winning Tasmania’s biggest race Bullys Delight has been stripped of victory.

A subsequent inquiry, headed by one of racing’s most experienced and respected stewards Ray Murrihy, not only took the $75,000 Group 2 Tasmanian Cup final off Bullys Delight, but relegated him from first to last place.

It all stemmed from driver Rhys Nicholson’s excessive and improper whip use along with him continually dropping his right foot from the sulky rest to kick the hock – known as “hocking” – Bullys Delight in the home straight.

Bullys Delight won by 4.6m and survived protests straight after the race from the drivers of second and third placegetters, Heath Woods on The Shallows and Conor Crook on Lip Reader.

Stewards did however cite Australian harness racing rule 174, which allowed them to refer the matter subsequently for further inquiry once Nicholson has pleaded guilty to a string of charges and been penalised.

In handing down his verdict yesterday, Murrihy didn’t hold back, describing Nicholson’s actions as “grievous violations of the rules and were so far outside what is permitted in the conduct of harness racing that they’d be viewed as an affront by a fair-minded person.”

He added: “We cannot accept a victory at any cost approach. You wouldn’t take that risk (as a driver) in a $5000 maiden, but there is more incentive in bigger races and it’s those bigger races which are watched by larger and broader audiences.

“In this case, you have to consider not just the seriousness of the infractions, but the welfare considerations and social licence we have to conduct racing. I looked at totality and gravity of what occurred.”

There are so many layers to this fascinating case.

It is believed to be the first time since the infamous 1993 Group 1 Treuer Memorial won by Master Musician where the result of harness race has be subsequently overturned on the ground of incidents during the event.

In that race, Master Musician won, but shifted up the track sharply and only narrowly held-off Franco Tiger. The race night protest was dismissed, but Franco Tiger’s connections went to the Supreme Court, which ordered an independent re-hearing of the protest. It was upheld.

This Tasmanian case poses questions about why the stewards didn’t uphold the protest on the night and/or if they rules allowed for them to.

It also plays to the ultimate statement of cracking down on improper and excessive whip use, which has been a huge talking point in harness and thoroughbred racing.

In regards the race night protest, Murrihy said: “It’s like we’ve come to T-intersection (in harness racing). There seems to have been a presumption the harness racing rules require stewards to believe the actions of a driver changed the result of a race factoring in the margin involved and that’s not the case.

“A conversation could well be held to test the criteria of protest hearings to reflect today’s standards.

“Thoroughbred rules are different and do clearly state that. I’m not saying that’s perfect either.”

However, in this Tasmania case, Murrihy clearly felt Bullys Delight should be stripped of the race on every measure, including the margin.

“In my view, had it not been for the whip, had it not been for the hocking, Bullys Delight wouldn’t have finished in front of the (subsequently) first and second placed horses.”

The connections of Bullys Delight have 14 days to appeal Murrihy’s verdict.

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