Tuesday 12 November 2019

Davy Russell lashes out at 'disgraceful' media coverage of controversial horse punch hearing

Jockey Davy Russell in the winners enclosure after winning the Paddy Power Steeplechase on Noble Endeavor during day two of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival in Leopardstown, Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Jockey Davy Russell in the winners enclosure after winning the Paddy Power Steeplechase on Noble Endeavor during day two of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival in Leopardstown, Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Luke Brown

Jockey Davy Russell has hit out at “disgraceful” media coverage after he was handed a four-day ban for punching a horse on the back of a head before a race.

Russell was caught on camera aiming a blow with his right hand while on board Kings Dolly, before the mares’ handicap hurdle at Tramore on 18 August.

On Tuesday, an appeals body review of the punishment handed out to the former champion jockey resulted in a four-day suspension, after he was initially handed only a caution.

But that punishment was judged to be “unduly lenient” after a Turf Club internal review, with the appeals body asked to review the findings of the referral committee.

Throughout the case, Russell argued that he wanted the horse to concentrate and that it was inappropriate to use the whip under the circumstances, but television footage of his actions quickly went viral on social media with a number of news outlets, including The Independent, reporting on the case.

Russell however claimed at his hearing that coverage of the case had been “unacceptable” and “disgraceful”, with his family made to suffer because of the press intrusion into their lives.

“What the press have done is unacceptable,” he said. “Not just to me, but to my family as well. My family are involved as well. They were mentioned in articles along the way. It is not just me anymore. I have a wife and children.

“One of those children is 13 years of age. She knows what is going on. She's at secondary school at the moment and she has to deal with this as well. I'm a father as well as a horseman, and I'm a normal human being.

“Journalists have paid no regard to that and have kept going and going and going with it. In my eyes that is disgraceful. It's pretty obvious to everyone in this room that I have put that in a lenient way.”

Russell also argued at his hearing that he struck the horse “with no anger involved” and so did not deserve to be punished by the Irish Turf Club.

“There was no anger involved. There was no malice,” he added. “I had no anger towards the filly. It was a matter of trying to get her back under control and trying to get her to pay attention.

“I know what this looks like, I'm a normal human being the same as you are. What the press have seen and what the press have brought forward is completely different.

“I want to make this as simple as possible, hence why I'm not here with any legal representation. It's very simple. It's a situation that has been taken to a level that has aggrieved both me and my family, by both the public and the media.

“Not by the Turf Club. I'm not questioning how you have gone about your business. And you have taken criticism over this also.”

In giving out the new punishment Joseph Finnegan, chairman of the appeals body and a retired Supreme Court judge was reported by The Irish Field as saying: “For this present case, a five-day suspension seems an appropriate penalty.

“However, we consider Mr Russell's previous record, which is a good one with regard to the welfare of animals, and we also take into account the delay in finalising the case which has caused a great deal of stress to Mr Russell and his family.

“Nonetheless we do not wish to underplay, understate or mitigate the offence - which is a serious one.

“However, taking into account the offender, we will reduce the suspension by one day and so substitute the penalty imposed to Mr Russell by the referrals committee from a caution to four days.”

The suspension will not begin until September 19, allowing Russell to ride at the Listowel Festival as he had made commitments to ride horses believing he would be free to do so, which was taken into account.

David Muir, equine consultant for the RSPCA, hopes lessons will be learned from the affair and the timescales involved in a reaching a final verdict.

He said: “We've all got to be pragmatic about this, Davy Russell has gone through the system for the past two weeks, which has let racing down. If four days was the punishment on the day, there would have been no furore.

“However, because of what happened originally he's gone through two weeks of hearings and what have you, where the end result is four days. I've no complaints over the punishment, but there needs to be a clear line of what is acceptable.

“Punching horses in the head is obviously not and the penalty needs to be clear. If jockeys do that then they need to be severely punished, which is down to the Turf Club and the British Horseracing Authority.

“Hounding a jockey is not right, which is what has happened here, so the Turf Club, and BHA, need to learn from this.”

Independent News Service

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