One of the more controversial aspects of Stewards duties surrounds the withdrawal of horses at the barrier. The powers given to Stewards by Australian Rule of Racing 8(u) is broad.
AR8(u) "To order the withdrawal of a horse from any race at any time before the start if in their opinion it is unfit to run or unable to start without unreasonable delay".
Stewards in determining whether a horse should be scratched must balance the interests of the horse, the horse's owners, it's trainer, it's jockey and also the interests of the punter as prize money primarily comes from public support and confidence in racing.
To apply consistency to such decisions a document entitled "The Roles and Responsibilities of the Official Veterinary Surgeon" has been drawn up which provides direction to Club Veterinarians in respect to the advice they might give to Stewards. In particular the Australian Trainers Association (NSW Branch) had significant input into this document as did the NSW Jockeys Association with both groups being represented at the recent NSW Starters Conference.
The following extracts from the document may assist in understanding the approach of Stewards to late withdrawals. The Veterinary Surgeon should then observe the horses moving around at the starting stalls and report any abnormality to the starter. The following situations need to be particularly watched for:
If a horse is observed to be lame, advise the starter. He may delay proceedings while the horse is inspected away from the others. In the minimal time available the horse should be observed at the trot and inquiries made of the jockey to determine whether the horse always has an unusual action. A diagnosis of the cause of lameness does not need to be made. After inspection the starter must be notified whether it is recommended that the horse be permitted to start or be withdrawn. If withdrawal is recommended, it is preferable that the Veterinary Surgeon communicate this directly with the Stewards. It is usual for the Chief Steward to accept the advice tendered, although he is not obliged to do so.
It is not uncommon for one horse to kick another as they move around behind the starting stalls waiting to be moved into them. A kick is often heard but seldom seen. The severity of the effects of a kick are not proportional to the sound that is heard. The decision on whether the kicked horse is still fit to run is often difficult to make, however any indication of lameness, swelling or broken skin, or simply the site of the kick may be grounds to recommend withdrawal.
When the starting stalls are being filled it is important to keep an undistracted eye on those horses being placed in, and those already in, the stalls. It is particularly important to closely observe any difficult or fractious horse at this time. Remember, if an incident happens it is easier to decide on whether a horse is still fit to race if the incident has been observed. Young inexperienced horses are generally more likely to create barrier incidents than older horses, though some of the latter are known for their bad "barrier manners" and warrant special observation.
If a horse rears over backwards, becomes cast for any length of time, struggles violently to regain its feet, sustains a blow to its head, or if a leg is caught up over a barrier structure for any significant period, then grounds for recommendation of withdrawal are almost assured.
In view of the limitless scenarios that can arise at the barrier, it is necessary for the Veterinary Surgeon to exercise a value judgement based on the particular circumstances of each incident.
When making a recommendation to the Stewards on the suitability of a horse to race, the Veterinary Surgeon must closely consider the following implications:-
(1) Will racing exacerbate any injury;
(2) Will the injury affect performance; and
(3) Will the injury endanger the horse or jockey?
Should any person have any queries regarding this document, please contact the Chief Steward.