The identity mix-up that led to two horses trained by Ivan Furtado running in the wrong races at Southwell was on Thursday described as a “comedy of errors” that was “not in any sense funny”.
BHA disciplinary panel chairman James O’Mahoney said such incidents risked bringing racing into disrepute after an inquiry at BHA headquarters in London heard that four opportunities were missed to correctly identify African Trader and Scribner Creek before they ran at Southwell last month.
The pair, both five-year-old geldings, had become mixed up shortly after being switched to Furtado and when they made their stable debuts on the same card on January 14, BHA officers did not spot the confusion despite scanning them both.
It was only after one of them was selected for dope testing that the discrepancy was discovered during analysis at the BHA’s offices the following day.
Furtado was fined a total of £2,000 – £1,000 for each race – and the horses disqualified from the third and seventh placings they achieved.
O’Mahoney said: “We’re aware others have made mistakes along the line as well but we consider the ultimate responsibility for the true identification of a horse to run in a race under rules lies with the trainer.
“Yes there were human errors, but consideration must be given to what the public, betting public, racing public, consider in respect of this and how it may affect the integrity and reputation of this sport. Bluntly, the right horses have got to run in the right races.
“We note from both sides, the authority [BHA] and Mr Furtado, procedures are being, or have been, put in place to ensure this kind of matter never occurs again.”
This was the second mistaken identity case in six months. Last July Millie’s Kiss was saddled instead of juvenile stablemate Mandarin Princess by trainer Charlie McBride and went on to beat her year-younger rivals at Yarmouth, which led to the introduction of additional identity checks.
These require the scanning of all runners’ microchips when they leave the stables to be saddled, but although this took place correctly at Southwell, the officer only noticed the characteristics of the horse and trainer but not that the name was wrong, the hearing was told. This error was repeated when the horse believed to be African Trader was scanned again at the sampling stage.
It also emerged neither horse was scanned on arrival, as the rules state, nor a problem picked up when a vet carried out a check.
BHA head of integrity Tim Naylor blamed “human error” by the equine welfare integrity officers at Southwell, saying: “It must be stated there were undoubtedly a number of procedural failings during the course of that day”.
He said new software was being developed for the scanners which would help prevent a repeat by “reducing the element of human interaction”.
O’Mahoney described the mix-up as “almost a comedy of errors. “This is not in any sense funny,” he said.
“The public is entitled to know which horse was running in which races. It’s a real concern for horseracing that by being seen to be going on it runs the risk of bringing the sport into disrepute.”
He added: “If the horse hadn’t been selected for sampling nobody would have been any the wiser.”
Furtado, who was represented by Dawn Bacchus, told the panel the horses were among seven that joined his yard in November. Although their identities were checked on arrival, he believed the mix-up occurred when they were put back in the wrong box early in their training and were subsequently treated as the ‘wrong’ horses.
Both were bay geldings with white on their hind legs, although African Trader had a star on his forehead. “Nobody knew the horses well enough to notice the mistake,” said Bacchus.
Bacchus pointed out the rules emphasise the importance of checks on horses running for a yard first time, and that while passports were checked at Southwell no scanning took place.
Furtado, who has since bought his own £80 scanner, said while comparing the horses running in the Southwell races with previous runs he noticed they were different horses and would have contacted the BHA had they not got in touch first.
Furtado said: “I wanted to get as low a fine as possible but I made a mistake and have to pay for that. I’ll learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“As we’re learning, I hope the BHA is learning as well. I want to apologise to the public and owners involved. I hope we won’t be talking about this ever again.”
BHA head of media Robin Mounsey said: “While the disciplinary panel noted in the hearing that ultimate responsibility for identification of the horses was Mr Furtado’s, this does not diminish the BHA’s responsibility to protect the sport’s reputation and ensure the public retain their trust in the sport’s integrity and regulation.
“The BHA is taking positive, swift action to enhance the technology involved in our horse identification processes and, as such, reduce the risk of human error allowing for such an incident to occur again.”