Declan Lavery: Amateur jockey's 10-day ban from Cheltenham Festival overturned

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport
National Hunt Chase image
Only four of the 18 horses that started finished the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham

Amateur jockey Declan Lavery's ban after finishing third at the Cheltenham Festival has been overturned.

Lavery was suspended for 10 days following an inquiry which ruled he was one of three jockeys to continue on tired horses in the four-mile National Hunt Chase.

Sir AP McCoy called the ban "the worst decision in 25 years" at the meeting.

"It's an absolute disgrace - it's indefensible," McCoy said on ITV Racing last week.

McCoy, the legendary 20-time champion jockey, said it did not tally for jockeys to face potential punishments for not trying to obtain the best possible finishing position, and to pull up a horse in contention for a place.

After a hearing at British Horseracing Authority headquarters in London on Thursday, an appeal was upheld and the suspension was quashed.

Cheltenham stewards had ruled that Lavery carried on riding Jerrysback when "it appeared to be contrary to the horse's welfare".

It was claimed that he should have pulled up his mount after jumping the penultimate fence because he had "no more to give".

But the rider told the hearing he would have stopped if he had "thought for a single moment he wouldn't get over the last".

The National Hunt Chase, which is restricted to amateur riders, saw just four of the 18 runners finish on the soft ground.

Stewards effectively ruled three jockeys carried on riding tired horses that should have been pulled up.

Lavery, from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland, finished 47 lengths back in third on Jerrysback. Stewards said his mount had made tired jumping errors at the final two fences.

Robert James was suspended for 12 days for his ride on Just Your Type, who fell at the final fence. Noel McParlan, the rider of Mulcahys Hill - a faller at the penultimate obstacle - was given an eight-day suspension.

Post-race examination of the horses did not reveal any abnormalities.

Stewards decided not to penalise Damian Skehan for his ride on 125-1 shot Clondaw Cian, the fourth of four finishers.

A statement from the BHA said: "Stewards have to make immediate decisions in the midst of a sporting event. That is why an independent appeals process exists which offers a fair process for challenging stewarding decisions.

"The panel were also clear that the requirement of the rules to pull up tired horses has primacy over the requirement to achieve the best possible placing, and that it is no justification to continue on a horse to finish placed in a race if doing so would be contrary to the horse's welfare."

Analysis

BBC racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght

This is the latest setback for the British Horseracing Authority which defended the stewards - appointed by it - but said it was a "refereeing decision" taken in the "midst of a [busy] sporting event".

I'm not sure how that will wash with the Authority's list of critics - the judgements made by Lavery and other jockeys at Cheltenham are much more split-second with potentially more critical consequences.

Though the Authority gained credit for its handling of February's equine flu outbreak, over other matters it's been roundly criticised, and I can't recall a time when the gulf between the regulator and the sport's professional horsemen and women was so wide.