Tuesday 15 October 2019

'I feel like a criminal today' - trainer Ronan McNally speaks out after being interviewed three times by Southwell stewards

The Jam Man ridden by Aidan Coleman jumps the last to win the Jigsaw Sports Branding Novices' Handicap Chase at Southwell Racecourse, Southwell. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
The Jam Man ridden by Aidan Coleman jumps the last to win the Jigsaw Sports Branding Novices' Handicap Chase at Southwell Racecourse, Southwell. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Irish trainer Ronan McNally claims he began to feel 'like a criminal' as stewards interviewed him over riding instructions and the vastly-improved form of his Southwell winner The Jam Man.

The six-year-old was backed from prices as big as 20-1 overnight into 9-4 favourite, and duly rewarded his backers by putting a string of well-beaten, unplaced efforts behind him with a seven-length victory in the Jigsaw Sports Branding Novices' Handicap Chase.

McNally, who owns as well as trains the gelding, has sent six winners out at British tracks from his Northern Ireland base in Armagh over the past five years.

Denis Hogan, who trains in Tipperary, described himself as "baffled" last month to be asked, amid concerns expressed by the British Horseracing Authority's integrity department, to provide pre-race clarification of riding instructions for his horses running at Redcar and Wetherby.

A similar situation arose for McNally on Monday - and then after The Jam Man's comfortable success, he confirmed Southwell stewards interviewed him twice more.

Asked on Sky Sports Racing if he believes Irish trainers may be deterred by such circumstances from travelling, McNally said: "I feel like a criminal today - coming over here, I'm in with the stewards three times."

In the stewards' report, the BHA posted the following information: "Prior to this race, at the request of the head office of the British Horseracing Authority's integrity department, the stewards spoke with Ronan MP McNally, the trainer of THE JAM MAN (IRE), and Aidan Coleman, the rider.

"They were interviewed to provide information regarding the selection of this race for THE JAM MAN (IRE); their expectations for today; and the riding instructions given. Their explanations were noted.

"The winner, THE JAM MAN (IRE), appeared to show improved form, compared with its previous run at Downpatrick on 15 June 2019, where the gelding finished seventh of nine, beaten by 98 lengths.

"Ronan MP McNally's explanation that the yard is coming back into form, the gelding had worked well at home prior to arrival in England, and THE JAM MAN (IRE) appears to run well at Southwell was noted. THE JAM MAN (IRE) was routine tested."

McNally explained that his string had been badly out of form long term, but has begun to show signs of returning to health - hence his decision to bring The Jam Man back to Southwell, where he also won over hurdles 12 outings ago in September last year.

He has also won at four other British tracks, but never in Ireland for either McNally or his previous trainer.

On his return to Southwell, ridden by Aidan Coleman, he led into the straight and surged clear.

McNally added of his exchanges with the stewards: "They had a word with me in the parade ring after - then I was called in again to see why the horse suddenly had won, 'was it the change of tactics?'.

"I said 'No, there was no change of tactics - he won because my horses are finally healthy, he's the best horse in the race'.

"(But) it doesn't seem to be acceptable.

"It was just like a quiz - upside down, basically.

"I just told them he had never won in Ireland, (so) I came over to try to win a race in England."

McNally is perplexed by any suggestions about large sums of money placed on The Jam Man.

"All this 'big gamble', it's a bit of a laugh," he said.

"(People) putting on Twitter this morning about tipping up The Jam Man - the whole thing snowballed. I think it's all blown out of proportion.

"It costs you maybe £800 to get here - so why else would you come to England, just to try to win a wee race?

"It's a family thing - I don't need to be called in numerous times, asking questions about this and that."

The BHA said in a statement: "The BHA does not comment on any inquiries or investigations which might be related, directly or indirectly, to potential integrity matters.

"Neither will the BHA elaborate on the reason why pre-race inquiries are held, for reasons of confidentiality.

"More generally, the BHA may occasionally wish to speak to individuals at racecourses as part of its regulation and monitoring of British racing.

"All such instances are logged on the BHA's website in the interests of transparency."

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