THE FEATURE RACE of the day at Cheltenham ended in controversy today, with a photographer and jockey hurt and the conclusion of the race effected.
Finian’s Rainbow ultimately came in first, completing a stunning day at the office for trainer Nickey Henderson and jockey Barry Geraghty, in the Queen mother Champions Chase.
Henderson’s winner beat defending champion Sizing Europe — trained by Tramore-based Henry de Bromhead — into second.
Earlier Kauto Stone crashed out on the first fence under Ruby Walsh. Then Wishfull Thinking clattered into a fence, injuring jockey Richard Johnson and a French photographer in the process.
The approach to the last fence was then dolled off but confusion reigned as course officials tried to direct jockeys away from the jump. Sizing Europe on the inside was more inconvenienced than Finian’s Rainbow by the late detour and he couldn’t get back into his stride up the hill.
De Bromhead however, was magnanimous afterwards.
“We were beaten which is about all I can say on the matter,” he told Channel 4 afterwards. “It was an incident-packed race. We lost Wishfull Thinking at the second and we could have done with a lead for longer.
“Andrew tried to hug the rails all the way just like last year and he didn’t know he was going to have to miss the last, we haven’t really discussed it but he just said ‘the last cost me the race’. We could have done with jumping another fence as he always likes something to aim at.
“These things happen and I wouldn’t like to say much more.”
Pics David Davies/PA Wire/Press Association Images
It was later confirmed that Johnson had been stood down for the rest of the day but he is thought to have suffered only soft-tissue damage while the press photographer was also said to be fine.
Later, officials were criticised by Ted Walsh and others while they reportedly insisted that the jockeys had their heads down and were at fault for any confusion.
“There wasn’t any need for us to have an inquiry,” Head of stewarding, William Nunneley said. ”Richard Linley, the inspector of courses, was down there (near the last fence). I know there was some confusion about where the chevrons were and the reason they were on the inside was to protect Richard Johnson on the other side of the fence.
“The jockeys might move round the fence, but if you get a loose horse it could easily jump it. The idea is, if the chevrons are there, hopefully if it (loose horse) jumped it, it would jump it away from where the casualty is.
“The procedures are agreed with the racing department. You can’t have a man with the flag on the track as you are putting him in danger. I’m sure like anything there are lessons to be learnt from this if needs be, but of paramount safety in a very short space of time was Richard Johnson and the medics treating him,” he added.