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P.J. Rothwell (Trainer) Appeal – Punchestown 31st May 2021

The Appeals Body (Division 2), Mrs. Justice Siobhan Keegan (in the chair), Mr. Peter N. Reynolds and Mr. N. B. Wachman convened via Zoom on Monday, 12th July 2021 to consider the appeal of P.J. Rothwell (Trainer) against the decision of the Stewards at Punchestown on the 31st May 2021. The hearing was adjourned due to allow for additional witnesses to be called following the introduction of new evidence by Mr. Rothwell and reconvened via Zoom on Wednesday, 4th August 2021.

On the day, the Stewards imposed a €200 fine on Mr. Rothwell following the late withdrawal of McGill from the Black Hills Handicap Hurdle.

At the initial Appeal Hearing, evidence was heard from Mr. Rothwell and Mr. Denis Egan, CEO of the IHRB. At the reconvened session, evidence was also heard from Mr. Brendan Sheridan, IHRB Clerk of the Course and Ms. Nicola O’Connor, IHRB Veterinary Officer.

In his evidence, Mr. Rothwell suggested that in the 24 hours prior to the race the ground had changed dramatically from yielding to soft to yielding and by 1pm on the day of the race it had changed again to good to yielding on the Hurdle track. He stated that the ground was in great condition but that the temperatures on the day were 30 degrees with a serious wind blowing and in the nine hours between the final ground update and the off time for the race McGill was declared to run the course had dried out more and more. He said that he made contact with the owner of McGill and withdrew the horse 35 minutes before the race time as the horse had a little leg problem previously. Mr. Rothwell recalled conversations he had on the day with Mr. Sheridan and Ms. O’Connor. He stated that Mr. Sheridan had agreed with him about the ground drying out. He added that Ms. O’Connor had also suggested the ground was quick because horses were changing their legs.

In his evidence, Mr. Egan confirmed that the first race on the day in question was 4.25pm and that the non-runner line would therefore close at 2.55pm. Anything after this time would be considered a late withdrawal.

Having considered the evidence, the Justice Siobhan Keegan, stated on behalf of the Appeals Body: “The panel have adjourned to consider this appeal which is an appeal from a fine imposed by Stewards for a late withdrawal of a horse at Punchestown on the 31st May 2021, and we have considered what Mr. Rothwell has said about this. Now, this is in the context of an appeal notice which we have obviously read in advance of today. But during the course of the hearing Mr. Rothwell has also raised some issues which have not been included specifically in the appeal notice. Those relate to discussions and knowledge of the Clerk of the Course firstly. Also we consider that Mr. Rothwell has expanded on the issue of conditions that day. He has made reference to the vet Ms. O'Connor and he has raised horse welfare issues and presented quite a stark picture. So we consider in that context that this appeal will have to be adjourned. Those who have been referred to should have an opportunity to comment on what is now being said in relation to this and it raises some important issues. So it would be wrong of us to proceed without that opportunity being afforded.”

In his evidence at the reconvened session, Mr. Sheridan said that as the race meeting was over two months previously he could not recall his exact conversation with Mr. Rothwell on the day but that he did remember Mr. Rothwell asking him about the ground. Mr. Sheridan denied Mr. Rothwell’s claim that he had agreed with Mr. Rothwell that the ground had dried out. Mr. Sheridan outlined that if he felt there was a change in the ground conditions he would have changed it.

In her evidence, Ms. O’Connor outlined that her role on a raceday was to monitor the health and welfare of horses from an IHRB point of view and to document any injuries. She recalled a conversation she had on the raceday in question with Mr. Rothwell but did not agree with his recollection of the same conversation. She clarified that she had spoken to Mr. Rothwell regarding the quick time of a race but not the quick ground.

Having considered the evidence, the Appeals Body released the following judgment.

“An Appeals Body convened by Zoom to consider the Appeal taken by Mr Phillip Rothwell, Trainer, (the Appellant) against the decision of the Acting Stewards at Punchestown on Monday 31st May 2021 to sanction him for late withdrawal of a horse (McGill) and apply a fine of €200 (as a consequence the horse is also banned from racing for two days pursuant to the Rules of Racing, rule 194(vii)(b)).

The Appeals Body, Mrs. Justice Siobhan Keegan (in the chair), Mr. Nick Wachman and Mr. Peter Reynolds considered the case on 12th July 2021 and 4th August 2021.

Mr Rothwell represented himself. Ms Cliodhna Guy appeared on behalf of the IHRB.

The relevant Rule is Rule 194 of the Rules of Racing specifically Rule 194(iii)(a) and (iv). It is clear from the rules that there are set penalties for late withdrawal of horses however the stewards retain a discretion as horses may be withdrawn by permission under the rules. In this case no permission was granted and the report of the Acting Stewards records the €200 fine for “late withdrawal”. There are no other late withdrawals noted on the day in question.

The Appeals Body has all of the powers set out in Rule 19C of the Rules of Racing. The Appeals Body must as the case may be in the course of their enquiry consider ‘all relevant circumstances and evidence’.

Evidence was heard from Mr. Philip Rothwell, Ms. Nicola O’Connor, IHRB veterinary officer,  Mr. Brendan Sheridan Clerk of the Course and Mr. Denis Egan CEO of the IHRB. Mr. Michael Grassick also attended as an observer in his capacity as Chief Executive of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association.

In his evidence Mr Rothwell maintained that ground conditions changed substantially during the day at the races. He said that he walked the course before racing, that the course was in good condition and the chase course he ran a horse on was “beautiful racing ground”.

However he said that the ground changed over five hours and by the evening the temperature was “30 degrees” there was “a serious wind blowing” and the ground was drying so much that he decided to withdraw his horse due to horse and jockey concerns. He said that the horse had a “little bit of a leg problem”. Mr. Rothwell said that he made his intentions known to the Stewards Secretary about an hour before he formally notified the Stewards. In the intervening time he said he had to contact the owner and then when the owner agreed he withdrew the horse. He said this was about 35 minutes before the race which was due to start at 8pm. In evidence Mr. Rothwell also said that there were a lot of injuries that day and that this was confirmed by the veterinary officer. He said he had spoken to Mr. Sheridan on the day in question.

Ms. Guy outlined the ground reports as follows. On Saturday at 7.55am “Punchestown is soft, soft to heavy in places, mainly dry.” On Sunday at 7.47am “Punchestown is now soft, fresh ground both tracks, dry forecast.” Sunday at 11.39am “Following a dry morning Punchestown is now yielding to soft, hurdle, bumper and remains soft on the chase. On Monday at 8.02am “Punchestown is yielding hurdle and yielding to soft chase. Fresh ground on hurdle track, dry forecast.” Ms Guy confirmed that the last ground report was 12.55 before racing. Ms Guy also said the highest temperature recorded that day was 23.1 degrees in Newport, County Mayo. When asked to clarify the time of withdrawal Ms. Guy said it was announced on IHRB twitter at 7.44pm so it was shortly before that say between 16-30 minutes. Ms. Guy also gave some evidence about the times of races that day but there was no consistent trend on that.

Mr. Egan confirmed that the first race was at 4.25pm on the day in question. The non-runner line closed at 2.55pm so anything after 2.55pm would be a late withdrawal.

Ms. O’ Connor and Mr. Sheridan gave evidence at the resumed hearing. Both said that they had spoken to Mr. Rothwell on the day in question. Ms. O Connor comprehensively explained events on that day in terms of horse management and she dealt with all of Mr. Rothwell’s points and did not highlight the same concerns.

Mr. Sheridan explained the ground conditions on the day. He said that it did dry but it did not dry out and he was satisfied with the ground reports. He said there were no rider’s reports which would usually indicate the need for a change.

The panel take into account a number of established facts. First this is clearly a late withdrawal. Whether it is 35 minutes or 16 minutes it is obviously an extreme case. Second, there is no mention of ground in the Stewards report and this is simply described as “late withdrawal”. Third, there was a dry forecast and it was a warm evening but it is an exaggeration to say it was 30 degrees on the day. Fourth, while there may have been non-runners no other horses were withdrawn late and there are no reports specific to ground.

The purpose of the rules is to provide for an efficient and workable system which obviously applies to all trainers. The cut off time for withdrawal is well known to trainers and is contained in the rules. The sanctions are also contained in the rules. The sanctions apply unless the Stewards give permission for withdrawal. The rules make provision for this, specifically in respect of ground conditions-rule 194(vii)(b) and under rule 194 (vii)(f) in relation to any reason.

We also note the obligation upon the trainer contained in rule 194(x) as this states that where a horse, declared to run, does not run, and is liable to be suspended by the Stewards, the Trainer shall assume the mandatory suspension has been applied. The onus will be on the Trainer to ascertain whether any excuse submitted was accepted by the Stewards.

This case comes down to whether the Stewards were wrong in the particular circumstances to apply the mandatory sanction for what was obviously a very late withdrawal. Mr. Rothwell says that they were wrong due to ground conditions/horse welfare concerns. We have considered all of the evidence and having done so we do not consider that Mr. Rothwell’s case is sustained given what Mr Sheridan has said about the ground conditions and what Ms. O’Connor has said regarding horse welfare. We prefer that evidence so we are satisfied that the appeal should be dismissed.”

The Appeals Body also ordered that Mr. Rothwell’s appeal deposit be forfeited.


The case was presented by Ms. Cliodhna Guy, Head of Legal, Licensing & Compliance.

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