False start fiasco at Naas has some bookmakers refunding bets

Ruby Walsh said the field shouldn’t have been let go and described it as ‘shambolic’

Irish racing’s regulator took another reputational blow at Naas on Sunday with a false start fiasco that had some bookmakers refunding bets.

Despite the Philip Enright ridden Shakeytry ducking right and unseating his jockey just before the tape was released in a handicap hurdle - with both Sean Says and Aarons Day badly impeded in the process - the starter let the field go.

After giving the opposition a massive head start, Aarons Day at 9-1 rallied to such effect that he eventually finished runner up to the winner, Capilano Bridge, the well backed 9-2 favourite.

There was widespread dismay across all platforms that a false start wasn't called by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board starter, Derek Cullen.


On Racing TV, former champion jockey and pundit Ruby Walsh pointed out how the starting tape held across the runners hadn't been released when Shaketry ducked. He said the field shouldn't have been let go and described the circumstances as "shambolic."

“That should have been a false start, absolutely no doubt,” Walsh said. “There is no way on earth Derek Cullen can start that race.”

He added: “Let’s be fair, everybody is human and everybody makes mistakes. But it is frustrating that an owner, a trainer and a jockey can be sanctioned for mistakes they make but nobody else seems to be.

“That is what is really frustrating from a professional’s point of view, that the officials aren’t held to the accountability of the participants.”

Sunday's incident came on the back of Friday's controversial decision on Navan where top trainer Gordon Elliott labelled the standard of stewards enquiries in Ireland as "barbaric."

That was after his odds-on favourite Folcano didn’t get a race in a stewards enquiry despite being carried significantly off a straight line by the winner, Brazos, and losing by just a nose.

Sunday’s race was originally run late due to a loose horse proving difficult to catch but that drama paled to what subsequently occurred.

Paddy Power quickly announced it was giving money back as free bets to backers of Shaketry and Sean Says who took no part after being badly hampered. It also refunded the win part of bets on Aarons Day as a free bet.

Aarons Day’s trainer Oliver McKiernan said afterwards: “They were hanging around for nearly half an hour at the start and then that happens. It’s beyond belief that it could happen.”

A subsequent stewards enquiry heard evidence from Enright, Kevin Brouder, the jockey of Sean Says and Aarons Day's rider, Liam McKenna. The stewards referred the matter to the chief executive of the IHRB for further investigation.

In 2009 Derek Cullen was at the centre of a high-profile starting incident at Bellewstown when starting a race before the favourite had made it to the start.

The saddle on the Michael Hourigan trained Warcraft had slipped on the way to the start and the horse travelled three furlongs past the start before he could be pulled up. Warcraft was still being led back when the race began.

Cullen took full responsibility and the mistake was put down to “human error” as a result of the starting procedures not being followed. Warcraft was treated as a withdrawn horse and punters got their money back.

Hourigan described the incident as a “farce.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column