Auckland TC 2 November 2023 – R8 (heard 10 November 2023 at Alexandra Park) – Peter Ferguson
Auckland Trotting Club
Alexandra Park - Cnr Greenlane West & Manukau Road Greenlane, Auckland, 1051
Penalty: Driver Peter Ferguson is suspended for 4 days
Following the running of Race 8, Auckland Co-op Taxis Handicap Pace on the 2nd of November 2023, an Information was filed by Stipendiary Steward, Shane Renault, against Licensed Driver, Peter Ferguson, alleging that, as the Driver of BROOKIES JAFFA, he “failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures to ensure his gelding was given full opportunity to win or obtain the best possible finishing position by persisting with a challenge for the lead during the middle stages.”
The Information was filed with the Raceday Adjudicative Committee and adjourned sine die. It was heard at the meeting of the Auckland Trotting Club held at Alexandra Park on 10th of November 2023.
Rule 868(2) provides as follows:
(2) Every driver shall take all reasonable and permissible measures at all times during the race to ensure that his horse is given full opportunity to win the race or to obtain the best possible position and/or finishing place.
At the commencement of the hearing, Mr Ferguson confirmed that he wished to defend the charge and sought clarity on the Rule. Mr Renault read the Rule for the benefit of the parties.
Mr Renault outlined the Stewards’ case. He commenced by showing the films in full, identifying runners BROOKIES JAFFA and MAGIC FOUR.
BROOKIES JAFFA started from the unruly position back 10m. BROOKIES JAFFA began quickly and improved forward to sit outside the lead horse MAGIC FOUR at the winning post on the first occasion. Mr Renault said that BROOKIES JAFFA was almost a neck in front of MAGIC FOUR, when Mr Ferguson looked to activate the hopple shorteners. He said that Mr Ferguson took some time to do this and as a result, MAGIC FOUR took back the advantage from BROOKIES JAFFA. Mr Renault said that from the 1800m, Mr Ferguson places significant pressure on his drive in order to try and take the lead from MAGIC FOUR and cross to the running line. He said that the Stewards had serious concerns in relation to Mr Ferguson’s drive from just inside the 1800m for approximately 500m, he said that during this period Mr Ferguson continued to apply pressure when it was clearly evident that the lead wasn’t available. Mr Renault said that the runner to the inside of BROOKIES JAFFA (MAGIC FOUR), was able to hold its position in the lead under minimal urgings and Mr Ferguson should have had looked to take other options he had available to him, to ensure his horse had full opportunity to finish off the race in the best possible placing.
Mr Renault said that Mr Ferguson did take a hold and began to restrain his drive approaching the winning post on the last occasion, but it was the Stewards’ submission that this had occurred too late.
He said that BROOKIES JAFFA then began to give ground from the 800m, weakening out in the home straight to finish16L from the winner.
BROOKIES JAFFA was subject to a post-race Vet check which showed no abnormalities.
The overall time for the race was 2.41.5, with the lead time being 45.2 and the first quarter in 28.6 and the following quarters being 30.5, 29.0 and 28.2.
Mr Renault said that the Stewards acknowledged that Mr Ferguson was entitled to challenge for the lead, but when that challenge continued for such a long period of time at a quick speed, with over half the race still to be run, it should have been at the forefront of Mr Ferguson’s mind to look for other options to ensure his horse was given full opportunity to finish in the best possible place.
Mr Renault closed his submissions by saying that Mr Ferguson’s driving tactics were unreasonable and it was not surprising that the horse weakened, as BROOKIES JAFFA was driven beyond its capabilities.
In cross examination, Mr Ferguson asked Mr Renault what other options he had available to him and asked Mr Renault to outline these on the video, which he did. Mr Ferguson disputed one of the options that Mr Renault suggested.
Mr Ferguson opened submissions with questions to the Stewards in relation to the improved performance of MAGIC FOUR, the Driver’s tactics and also asked what the purpose of Rule 868(2) was and whom it was put in place to protect. He said that as the Rule was there to protect the punter, the punter in reading the form, would have expected Mr Ferguson to lead and expect the other horse to trail.
He said that in its previous 9 starts, MAGIC FOUR had never once pressed for the lead.
Mr Ferguson provided some commentary in relation to BROOKIES JAFFA’s last 7 starts in that it had either lead or trailed, but had always been on the marker line. Mr Ferguson then referenced the last 4 starts where BROOKIES JAFFA had competed against MAGIC FOUR, outlining the respective position in running and finishing position of each horse. He suggested that both horses were similar in ability and for MAGIC FOUR to have finished 16 lengths ahead of BROOKIES JAFFA, suggested that MAGIC FOUR had performed well above expectations and BROOKIES JAFFA had performed well below expectations.
Mr Ferguson contested the Stewards’ submission that he pressed for the lead for approximately 500m and suggested it was closer to 400m. He said that there was no speed duel in the race and that it was his opinion that he wasn’t going too fast, as the first half was run in 59 seconds. He said from a punter’s perspective, his horse was 6/6 in the betting so the punters did not expect the horse to finish any better than that.
Mr Ferguson said that one of the hopple shorteners didn’t release when he activated them and while he was leaning forward to remedy this, the advantage he had gained over MAGIC FOUR was lost. He said that had this not happened, he may have been able to take the lead easily, but it didn’t, and as a result, he waited, as opposed to chasing his horse around the bend. Mr Ferguson said that he had gained the lead over MAGIC FOUR while sitting outside it and the Driver of MAGIC FOUR neither eased back nor pressed forward, so that is why he continued to press forward to try and get to the marker line.
In Mr Ferguson’s opinion, BROOKIES JAFFA raced lethargically and he failed to see how taking any of the options that Mr Renault proposed, would have seen him finish any closer than 16 lengths last. (For clarity, Mr Renault had proposed that Mr Ferguson could have considered restraining the horse back to last to get on the marker line and receive cover, or taking a hold earlier and sitting in the parked position).
Mr Ferguson presented Mr Teaz as his witness. Mr Teaz is the Trainer of BROOKIES JAFFA and joined the hearing via phone.
Mr Teaz opened his submissions by suggesting he was confused that MAGIC FOUR’s Driver was insistent on maintaining the lead and that it was a confusing form turn around by that runner. He said that BROOKIES JAFFA was having its 3rd start in 20 days and perhaps he shouldn’t have started the horse, as he thought it underperformed and clearly wasn’t at its best. Mr Teaz said that in his opinion, the lead time wasn’t overly quick and the quickest part of the race was between the 1600m and the 1200m, which would normally suit BROOKIES JAFFA.
Mr Teaz said that the Driver of MAGIC FOUR appeared to him as if he was going to hand up the lead, and played his part in the outcome of BROOKIES JAFFA, by not handing up the lead.
Mr Ferguson asked Mr Teaz what he thought of Mr Renault’s suggestion that Mr Ferguson could have pulled back to last. Mr Teaz said that BROOKIES JAFFA needed the pace on and also needed the marker pegs to perform at its best. Mr Teaz said he had no problems with Mr Ferguson’s drive to put some speed into the race.
Mr Renault asked Mr Teaz as to whether he was surprised at the length of challenge by Mr Ferguson. Mr Teaz said what confused him was that he thought the Driver of MAGIC FOUR was handing up, and thought the length of challenge may have been exaggerated by the length of time it took for Mr Ferguson to get the hopple shortener out.
Mr Renault asked Mr Teaz what his opinion of Mr Ferguson’s drive was. Mr Teaz said immediately after the race he was confused and he was a little disappointed, but more disappointed with the drive of Matthew White on MAGIC FOUR, but acknowledged that this Driver did go on to win the race. He said he couldn’t understand why the Driver of MAGIC FOUR didn’t hand up the lead and chose to sit BROOKIES JAFFA parked.
Mr Renault asked how BROOKIES JAFFA had recovered. Mr Teaz said that the horse was a bit tired after the race, but seemed fine and he had fast worked him that morning and he appeared to have taken no ill effects.
Mr Renault asked Mr Teaz what other options he thought that Mr Ferguson had to him. Mr Teaz replied by saying he wasn’t sure that Mr Ferguson did have a lot of options and he would have been frustrated if Mr Ferguson hadn’t attempted to take the lead as opposed to sitting parked.
Mr Renault asked Mr Teaz whether he thought trying to get to the lead for 400-500m, was too far. Mr Teaz said he thought open class horses should be able to achieve this.
Mr Renault asked Mr Teaz whether he was surprised at the speed of the sectional time from the 1600m to the 1200m, Mr Teaz said he was not.
In cross examination, Mr Renault asked Mr Ferguson whether he expected the Adjudicative Committee to accept that a challenge for the lead of 400m-500m, was giving his horse every opportunity. Mr Ferguson responded by saying he did, and by not challenging for the lead, he was not giving the horse every opportunity based on its previous form.
Mr Ferguson said that Mr White (MAGIC FOUR) had let him get to the front and his body language suggested he was going to let Mr Ferguson cross (although he didn’t), but then he got to the stage where he couldn’t keep going. He said when he was challenging for the lead, he was always in front (but sitting parked).
Mr Ferguson said that by driving BROOKIES JAFFA in the manner he did, he gave it every chance, but it underperformed and in a response to a question from Mr Renault, Mr Ferguson said he did not over drive the horse.
Mr Ferguson said that by the time he got to the 1200m, he realised he wasn’t going to get the lead, he couldn’t keep pressing on, so restrained his mount.
SUMMING UP – INFORMANT
Mr Renault commenced by saying, that based on the evidence of Mr Teaz and Mr Ferguson, that their preferred option was to get to the pegs and lead, however based on the video evidence, it was clear there was no option for Mr Ferguson to get to the lead and as a result, the challenge for the lead went on for too long. It was the Stewards’ opinion, that Mr Ferguson didn’t take all reasonable and permissible measures to ensure his horse received its best possible placing. He said Mr Ferguson should have desisted with the challenge at an earlier time and looked to restrain, so it could finish the race off better in the final straight.
SUMMING UP – RESPONDENT
Mr Ferguson said that Mr Renault’s statement was not based on any facts in relation to BROOKIES JAFFA or MAGIC FOUR’s previous racing performances or tactics, and it was only his opinion. He said that his own evidence was backed up with numerous facts, including evidence from the Trainer. He said that this evidence included reference as to why there was the challenge for the lead, the reason as to gaining an advantage and why he perceived he could get to the marker line.
He closed by saying there was no evidence at all, that had he driven the horse any differently, that the outcome would have been any different.
The Adjudicative Committee found the charge proved, the reasons are set out below.
The Adjudicative Committee was required to establish if the manner in which Mr Ferguson drove BROOKIES JAFFA through the early and mid stages of the race, reasonable to ensure that he met his obligation to ensure that the horse competed in the finish of the race and was not denied the opportunity to compete, as a result of his early driving tactics.
The lead up time of this race was 45.2 seconds, with the first quarter being in 28.6 and the next quarter being 30.5 (59.1 for the half). This time occurred with BROOKIES JAFFA sitting outside of and attacking the horse on the marker pegs, in an effort to cross to the lead.
Mr Ferguson and Mr Teaz both suggested that the race time and in particular the first half mile, was not necessarily a fast time for this grade of horse. It should be noted that in a race over the same distance that BROOKIES JAFFA competed in on the 22nd of September 2023, the lead time was 47 seconds, with opening quarters of 30.3 and 30.2. (60.5 for the half). In another race on the 29th of June that Mr Ferguson referred to in his submissions, there was a nose margin between BROOKIES JAFFA and MAGIC FOUR, on this occasion the lead time was similar – 45.1 seconds, with the first quarter being 29.6 and the second quarter 31.7 (61.3 for the half).
Having compared the combined lead up time and first half of each of the 3 races referenced, which were all 2200m standing starts at Alexandra Park, it clearly illustrates that in the race that brought the charge, BROOKIES JAFFA was most certainly driven significantly quicker early in the race than it had in other comparable races.
The video evidence clearly illustrated that Mr Ferguson did urge his horse for a significant distance in an effort to cross to the marker line. It was also evident that while BROOKIES JAFFA was under a strong drive, MAGIC FOUR was travelling more comfortably and was able to hold out BROOKIES JAFFA under little urging.
Having listened to all the submissions, which were lengthy, reviewed previous race performances (for context) and viewed the video submissions, the Adjudicative Committee was more than comfortable that the charge had been proved beyond the requisite standard.
It was the Adjudicative Committee’s view that Mr Ferguson, an experienced Senior Driver, should have taken the opportunity to restrain his drive and give it some respite from attacking the lead, at an earlier stage during the race. In failing to restrain his drive at an earlier stage and given the early speed in the race, it was unreasonable for Mr Ferguson to expect BROOKIES JAFFA to obtain its best possible placing.
Mr Renault said that Mr Ferguson had a clear record in regard to the Rule, and had 321 drives in the last 12 months. He said that the starting point for a breach of this Rule was a 7 day suspension (mid range breach) and that the Stewards considered this to be a mid range breach, therefore would be requesting a 7 day suspension of Mr Ferguson’s Driving License.
Mr Ferguson submitted that he thought a 7 day penalty was too harsh compared to other breaches for unrelated charges, and requested a deferment to any proposed suspension.
Mr Ferguson is suspended for 4 driving days, the reasons are set out below.
Recent previous penalties for a 1st breach of this Rule range from 3 days + $150 fine to 7 days. The starting point for this breach is 7 days, this reflects a mid-range breach. Adjudicative Committees have the option to apply discounts or increases to the starting point based on aggravating or mitigating factors.
The Adjudicative Committee considered that this breach was as a result of an error of judgement. Mr Ferguson drives BROOKIES JAFFA regularly and this drive was not too dissimilar to how he would normally drive the horse, with the difference being on this occasion, his failure to recognise when he had overdone his pursuit of the lead. On this basis, the Adjudicative Committee sees this as a low level breach.
Mr Ferguson is a busy Northern Driver and has a good record in relation to the Rule, for which he should receive credit. The Adjudicative Committee is also cognisant of the limited driving opportunities for Northern Drivers vs Southern Drivers. Having bundled these 3 mitigating factors together, the Adjudicative Committee determined that a 4 day suspension was an appropriate penalty.
Mr Ferguson is suspended from the conclusion of racing on the 17th of November, up until and including 30th November 2023.
Decision Date: 10/11/2023
Publish Date: 14/11/2023