By Andy Stephens
Racing left itself open to ridicule on Thursday when the result of the first race at Yarmouth had to stand despite an identity mix-up meaning that the winner, supposedly an unraced two-year-old, turned out to be an older stablemate who already had a victory to her name.
Shock that the Charlie McBride-trained Mandarin Prince, a 50-1 chance, had got the better of 4-6 favourite Fyre Cay in the six-furlong novice auction stakes turned to incredulity when it was discovered that she was in fact her stablemate, Millie’s Kiss, a three-year-old rated 69 who had already raced ten times, chalking up a victory at Lingfield last year.
Millie's Kiss had been due to run in the 3.15 race on the same card. As she galloped to victory in a race she should never have contested, or even be allowed to run-in, Mandarin Prince was standing idle in the stables.
The winner's real identity became clear when she was presented at the sampling unit for routine testing. By that time, though, the result had been made official. After the words "weighed in" have been declared on the racecourse, the result cannot be amended by the stewards.
McBride, the stable groom, the Veterinary Officer and the Equine Welfare Integrity Officer responsible for the Sampling Unit were all interviewed by the stewards. Having heard their evidence they referred the matter to the Head Office of the British Horseracing Authority.
Inevitably, there will be repercussions for McBride, as the buck stops him with him, but the mix-up will also trigger a broader debate about why horses are not given an identity scan before entering the parade ring, rather than afterwards, and also why bookmakers and some punters (especially those who backed the favourite to beat the second favourite in a forecast) were left out of pocket - even though it was clear the official result was an utter nonsense.
Rule changes will surely follow, but only after the wrong horse has bolted.
The BHA acknowledged as much later in the afternoon, via a statement, which read: “The responsibility lies with the trainer to present and run the correct horse in the race. Having said that, and while we have not seen an incident of this nature in recent times, we will of course determine what steps need to be put in place to prevent it from happening again. We sympathise with the betting operators and betting public who have potentially been affected by this incident.
“Since we introduced the microchipping identification system an incident such as this is, as far as we are aware, unprecedented."
Usually, a three-year-old runner would have to concede lumps of weight to a two-year-old rival. For example, in the Colmore Nunthorpe at York next month, a filly would receive the best part of 2st from an older, male rival.
Mandarin Prince was getting 7lb from Fyre Cay and it would have been 8lb had John Egan, her rider, not put up 1lb overweight.
For those of a certain age, events will have revived memories of a famous gamble which took place at Leicester in 1982 when Flockton Grey supposedly made his debut in a race for two-year-olds.
Instead, a three-year-old horse, Good Hand, deliberately ran in place of Flockton Grey. Heavily backed, he won by 20 lengths and landed perpetrators of the scam a fortune, although their deceit was later rumbled and they were punished heavily inside and outside the law courts.
In this instance, there is no suggestion that McBride or anyone connected to his stable attempted to profit, reflected in the horse going off at 50-1. It seems one bay-coloured filly was simply led out, in error, instead of the other.
Bookmakers were left with little option but to pay out on the winner and second.
David Stevens, of Coral, spoke for many of his colleagues when he said: "We had already paid out an admittedly small sum on the horse that wasn't Millie's Kiss before the mix-up was realised, and have made the decision to make an ex-gratia payment to those customers who backed the beaten favourite, as Fyre Cay was clearly the moral winner of the race.
"It will cost us more than £50,000, and once again the bookmakers have been left to pick up the tab for racing's cock-up."