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Horse racing set for major rule change amid growing fury over ‘farcical’ false starts

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RACING is set to bring in a major rule change amid growing fury over ‘farcical’ false start races.

The shambolic scenes at Wolverhampton last week saw nine of the 11 runners withdrawn after the stalls failed to open on time.

Stewards could now declare a horse a non-runner if their chance of winning has been materially affected by circumstances outside their control, such as a stalls malfunction
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While there was more madness last summer in the Epsom Dash – the ‘fastest race in the world’ – when some of the gates opened before others.

It meant some horses in that race were given an advantage over others, while in the Wolverhampton case the 11 intended runners were reduced to just two.

Aside from ruining the contests as betting heats, they are also disastrous for owners and trainers, whose work and costs can be squandered due to reasons totally beyond their control.

But according to the Nick Luck podcast, the BHA are now looking to ‘harmonise’ British racing’s rules with the rest of the world.

And it will mean stewards are given greater discretion to declare a horse a non-runner.

Currently, respected racing journalist Lydia Hislop said on the podcast, stewards can only declare a horse a non-runner if the horse is prevented from starting or the jockey is not on a horse.

Internationally, however, a horse can be scratched if its chances of winning are materially prejudiced.

This new rule – it is not clear when it will come into force – means a steward can now declare a horse a non-runner if, for example, they are denied a fair start due to a stalls malfunction.

There reportedly could be other instances they step in, such as when a blindfold is not removed in time, if a stalls handler is unable to get out of the way fast enough or if there is an equipment failure.

For punters who back a horse who is declared a non-runner, it should mean their stake is voided and their money returned.

Bookies have offered ‘justice refunds’ in some circumstances where an obvious error has been made.

But this is down to the individual bookie and some may instead choose to settle the bet as a loser.

Hislop said the rule change marks a ‘new frontier’ in British racing and ‘allows stewards greater discretion to step in when they feel a horse’s chance has been materially affected’.

If a number of horses are affected – as was the case with the Wolverhampton race – then the contest could be declared void.

We most recently saw that at Kelso earlier this week when a bumper race was scrubbed from the record.

Sadly a horse suffered a fatal injury and the remaining runners could not safely navigate round him while he was being treated on the track.

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