Appeal – Written Decision dated 4 April 2023 – Alicia Harrison
Manawatu Harness Racing Club
Manawatu Raceway - Pioneer Highway, Palmerston North,
Outcome: Appeal Dismissed
1.1. On 8 December 2022, Ms Alicia Harrison drove the colt, MITCH, in Race 6 at the Manawatu Harness Racing meeting.
1.2. Subsequent to the race, she was charged by Stewards with careless driving, being a breach of Rule 869(3)(b) of the Rules. The relevant wording of the charge was as follows:
…in that near the 250m, she allowed her drive to shift in when activating gear, which resulted in her drive (MITCH) racing over track markers causing it to break, losing its chance.
1.3. The charge was dismissed by the Adjudicative Committee. The Racing Integrity Board appealed that decision.
1.4. The Appeal Hearing was held at the Cambridge Raceway on 23 March 2023. Footage of the race was shown, and both the RIB Stewards and Ms Harrison set out their position by way of talking to the race replay and explaining their respective positions.
1.5. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Appeals Tribunal informed the parties that the Appeal was dismissed, and reasons would follow. These are the Appeals Tribunal’s reasons for that decision.
2. THE RACE
2.1. It was uncontested that MITCH was an extremely difficult drive. At the time of the race, he was a colt. Video footage made it clear that Ms Harrison worked extremely hard to keep the horse under control.
2.2. The horse started quickly from barrier four, made its way across other horses and led the race until the incident that is the subject of the charge. Earplugs being used on MITCH came out before the start causing the horse to over-race. As stated, Ms Harrison had a difficult drive. On multiple occasions, she moved up the reins to tighten her grip and restrain the horse.
2.3. The incident occurred on the final bend. At about the 250-metre mark, Ms Harrison reached down with her right hand to activate the blinds. The horse reacted by shifting inwards and therefore racing over/inside the marker pegs. The horse then galloped after Ms Harrison reacted to straighten the horse, impeded the chances of other horses, and finished the race in ninth (second last).
3. DECISION OF THE ADJUDICATIVE COMMITTEE
3.1. At the conclusion of the race day hearing, the chair of the Adjudicative Committee, Mr McCutcheon, stated:
“I’m not going to delay matters. I think there is some doubt in this, some grave doubt. I’m not satisfied that you have driven carelessly. The charge is dismissed.”
3.2. The Written Decision issued by Mr McCutcheon states:
“The Adjudicative Committee found that passing the 300m, Ms Harrison had both reins in her left hand and activated the blinds with her right hand. Her drive “MITCH” drifted to be inside the marker peg line. The Applicant’s evidence was that Ms Harrison did not have sufficient control of her drive when it went in. Ms Harrison said that her horse was a difficult drive and that after activating the blinds, it ducked in and that she reacted straight away and could not do any more.
The Adjudicative Committee, after considering all of the evidence which included film replays, believed that Ms Harrison did react within a reasonable amount of time to straighten a difficult drive”.
3.3. The Adjudicative Committee was not satisfied that Ms Harrison had driven carelessly and therefore dismissed the charge.
4.1. The Appeal was brought by the RIB pursuant to Rules 1202 and 1203.
4.2. Prior to the hearing, Ms Harrison raised an issue as to whether there was jurisdiction for the RIB to appeal a decision of the Adjudicative Committee. This point was not pursued once the Appeals Tribunal referred Ms Harrison to the applicable provisions of the Rules.
5. RESPECTIVE POSITIONS
5.1. The Notice of Appeal referred to the definition of careless driving as stated by Adjudicative Committees on previous occasions:
“Whether a person acts carelessly is a matter of fact. The issue is whether the driver exercise a degree of care and attention that a reasonable and prudent driver would exercise in the circumstances…”
5.2. No issue was taken with that being an accurate statement defining careless driving.
5.3. The RIB’s case is that Ms Harrison failed to have sufficient control when activating the blinds near the 250m mark and the horse drifted in at the apex of the corner and ended up inside the marker line. In its view, Ms Harrison was careless when activating the blinds and allowed the outside rein to go forward and lose control. The horse then turned his head when off the track and shortly after, broke.
5.4. Ms Harrison’s position is that instead of going forward when the blinds were activated, the horse instead overreacted ducking inwards. She tried to correct him as soon as a wheel went inside the marker line. The horse fought being turned outside and broke after his legs contacted with a marker and the next marker went between his legs. No more could be done. Prior to this critical point, Ms Harrison says that the horse was under control despite its difficult nature/race manners.
6.1. Having reviewed the race several times, both at full speed and in slow motion, and having heard the positions of the parties, the Appeals Tribunal has reached the same conclusion as the Adjudicative Committee.
6.2. While the Appeals Tribunal deems the matter to be finely balanced, the Appeals Tribunal has genuine doubt as to whether the actions of Ms Harrison were careless. The Appeals Tribunal notes that the incident came towards the end of an extremely difficult drive. The horse had over-raced and led for the entire race. Ms Harrison had worked hard to restrain the horse as much as possible. Prior to Ms Harrison activating the blinds, the horse was racing within the permitted area. After activating the blinds, the horse reacted by moving inwards with initially the sulky wheel going inside the marker at the apex of the bend. The horse then fought the attempt to correct it outwards and reacted in a way that reflects more on its race manners than the actions of Ms Harrison.
6.3. Ms Harrison had both her hands back on the reins in the top grip at the point it drifted inwards and the sulky wheel went inside the marker line. She has made every effort at that time to correct the horse.
6.4. The Appeals Tribunal concludes, as the Adjudicative Committee did, that Ms Harrison in the circumstances had reacted within a reasonable amount of time of the horse drifting inside the marker peg following activation of the blinds to straighten a difficult drive. The Appeal is accordingly dismissed.
7. EFFECT OF THIS DECISION
7.1. The Appellant’s Notice of Appeal raised the point that, if upheld, the Decision of the Adjudicative Committee will have wider consequences. In essence, the point was a concern the Decision will ‘open the floodgates’ and be used by Drivers to successfully defend careless driving charges.
7.2. The Appellant did not further advance this point in submissions before the Appeals Tribunal, however the Appeals Tribunal notes that charges of careless driving are fact specific. Each must be considered having regard to the particular circumstances, including matters such as the track, Driver and horse. A decision in relation to the particular circumstances of one charge will rarely have any influence on the outcome of another.
7.3. The Appeals Tribunal’s decision in this instance turns on its particular facts.
Decision Date: 23/03/2023
Publish Date: 04/04/2023