Fradd's ban could set a dangerous precedent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2006, 12:00am

Tomorrow's appeal by Robbie Fradd against an 11-meeting suspension holds an unusual level of importance for the Hong Kong racing industry.

And it goes way beyond the giving deserved relief to the aggrieved jockey from the consequences of a decision against him by the club's stipendiary stewards.

Tomorrow the stewards will be making a call that will affect the career of every jockey who rides in Hong Kong, now and in the future.

For, if the decision against Fradd is allowed to stand, then the career of every jockey riding here is in jeopardy every time he is legged into the saddle because he can be banned for simply making an honest mistake.

The overwhelming view of the professionals in the business is that the ban on Fradd for failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to win on Healthy Fruits two weeks ago is just plain wrong.

Even Fradd's enemies among the ranks of his rivals believe it's a severe injustice to suspend him for what was nothing more than a single error.

There was an interesting case in Australia a few years back when Shane Dye was riding the great weight-for-age galloper Tie The Knot in a Group Two race against Hong Kong Mile winner Sunline at 1,400 metres.

Tie The Knot thundered home late to finish second to the front-running, champion New Zealand mare in what was regarded as a virtual match race. And the stewards saw red, accusing Dye of making certain decisions in the early part of the race that made it impossible to catch Sunline. They charged him with a similar rule to the one Fradd is accused of breaking, and suspended him for three months.

Dye appealed, and at the end of 71/4 hours of argument and evidence, the panel chairman Tom Hughes QC announced that Dye's appeal was upheld, and the stewards' ruling was overturned.

'The proof of that charge depends upon more than establishing a mere error of judgment on the part of the rider who is in charge under that rule,' Hughes said.

'Proof of such a charge requires evidence that satisfies the appeal panel that the rider of a horse took some steps that were objectively unreasonable and, in a sense, blameworthy in the course that he took.'

The five-person appeal panel contained another Queen's Counsel, the eminent Marcus Einfeld, so it could scarcely be accused of lacking legal acumen. While acknowledging the legitimacy of the Sydney stewards' concerns, and their right to ask Dye the hard questions, the chairman said Dye had given an explanation that the panel could not reject, 'having regard to where the onus of proof lies and the importance of that onus'.

For this running and handling charge to be validated, a mere mistake was not enough.