Non Raceday Inquiry – Decision dated 29 July 2021 – Vaughan Blanchard

ID: RIB3789

Respondent(s):
Vaughan Blanchard - Other (Graduation Driver)

Applicant:
Mr Steve Mulcay - Senior Stipendiary Steward

Adjudicators:
Prof G Hall

Information Number:
A14214

Decision Type:
Adjudicative Decision

Charge:
Used whip free of the rein on 7 occasions in the run home

Rule(s):
869(2)

Plea:
Admitted

Outcome: Proved

Penalty: Graduation Driver Vaughan Blanchard is fined $450

DECISION OF THE ADJUDICATIVE COMMITTEE

[1] Information A14214 alleges the Respondent, Mr Blanchard, at the Auckland TC Workouts held at Pukekohe on Saturday 3 July 2021 “used his whip free of the rein on 7 occasions in the run home”.

[2] This is an alleged breach of r 869(2) of the NZ Rules of Harness Racing and the Whip and Rein Regulations.

[3] Rule 869(2) provides: “No driver shall during any race use a whip in a manner in contravention of the Use of the Whip Regulations made by the Board.”

[4] The Whip and Rein Regulations provide:

3. USE OF THE WHIP

3.1 A driver may only apply the whip in a wrist only flicking motion whilst holding a rein in each hand with the tip of the whip pointed forward in an action which does not engage the shoulder.

3.2 For the purposes of clause 3.1, “wrist only flicking motion” means:

3.2.1 Ensuring no force is generated by the use of the elbow or shoulder when applying the whip.

3.2.2 The forearm is not raised beyond forty-five degrees relative to the racing surface.

3.2.3 Not applying the whip with overt force.

[5] Mr Mulcay produced authorisation to lay the Information.

[6] Mr Blanchard has signed the Information admitting the charge.

Summary of facts

[7] Mr Mulcay produced a summary of facts.

[8] Mr Blanchard is Licensed as a Public Trainer and Graduation Driver and trains in partnership with his father Peter, at Pukekohe.

[9] Mr Blanchard drove stable runner THE MIGHTY WARRIOR in “Heat 2 Mobile Pace – Left Handed” at the Auckland TC Workouts held at Pukekohe on Saturday 3 July 2021. This event was over 2050 metres from a mobile and THE MIGHTY WARRIOR finished in 3rd place.

[10] THE MIGHTY WARRIOR drew barrier 2 and trailed the leader throughout before Mr Blanchard activated the deafeners early in the run home and then commenced to drive the gelding out by using the whip in his right hand free of the rein on seven occasions in a striking manner which was clearly more than the permissible wrist only flicking action.

[11] This matter was referred to Mr Mulcay by the Chief Stipendiary Steward on 5 July 2021 and, after viewing the HRNZ Website footage, he formed the opinion that Mr Blanchard had a charge to answer for being in breach of r 869(2) in that he used his whip in a manner in contravention of the Use of the Whip Regulations.

[12] Mr Blanchard, accompanied by his father, was interviewed at the Waikato BOP Harness Inc’s meeting at Cambridge on 9 July 2021 and issued with an Information detailing the charge the following day at the Pukekohe trials.

[13] Mr Blanchard signed the Information admitting the charge and returned it to Mr Mulcay on 16 July 2021.

[14] The signed Information and authority to charge form were then forwarded to the Executive Officer at the RIB along with advice that Mr Blanchard sought to have the matter dealt with on the papers rather than having to attend a hearing. The RIB was not opposed to this application.

Decision as to breach

[15] As Mr Blanchard has admitted the breach of r 869(2), it is found to be proved.

Informant’s penalty submissions

[16] Mr Mulcay stated that Mr Blanchard was first licensed as a Junior Driver in the 07/08 season and held that Licence until the completion of 13/14 season. During that period, he had 166 race drives for 7 wins and 25 placings. Mr Blanchard had since alternated between holding a Trials Driver and Graduation Driver’s Licence but had not driven on raceday.

[17] The Informant assessed that the breach falls in the medium level range for a first offence as he inadvertently reverted to the old style (freehand and/or more than a wrist flicking motion) and continued to drive in that manner for a distance greater than 50 metres before desisting with his whip use. This level of breach attracts a penalty with a starting point of a $500 fine or a period of suspension of two meetings.

[18] In order for the penalty to be meaningful, the Informant submitted that a fine would be appropriate as a suspension would have no impact given Mr Blanchard’s lack of raceday driving.

[19] Other matters to be considered include:

Mr Blanchard has admitted the breach, shown remorse for his actions and has a clear record.

The manner in which he has used the whip is totally unacceptable in the current environment of “animal welfare”.

This incident reflects badly on the Industry as the workout was held before the public and available to view on the HRNZ website.

The need to provide a deterrent both general and specific.

[20] Mr Mulcay referred the Committee to the RIU v Wallace (2020) which outlined the rationale for imposing a fine of $500 for a breach that was almost identical to this case and submitted that a similar penalty is warranted given the circumstances.

[21] The Informant made no application with regard to costs as no expense had been incurred given that the matter had been dealt with on papers.

Respondent’s penalty submissions

[22] Mr Blanchard said he apologised for his actions by breaching the new whip regulations and how it appeared to the public. He had viewed the video and wished to make it clear (with direct reference to animal welfare) that he never made contact with THE MIGHTY WARRIOR as his actions were an attempt to wake the horse up by hitting the shaft and dust sheet.

[23] Mr Blanchard emphasised his passion and said “my love for horses is my fuel for choosing this profession, as no young Trainer gets into Harness Racing for the money. Animal welfare is my utmost priority and I pride myself in taking great care of all horses in my care. Questioning this is a hurtful and unfair point to put across.”

[24] Mr Blanchard said he loved working in the Harness Industry, and as a young Trainer, he had more and more financial pressures and difficulties. With this in mind, he queried the severity of the fine, and asked whether a $500 fine was a fair and reasonable penalty.

[25] Mr Blanchard submitted that his unwavering love and care for the horses, his previous record, and the way he always conducted himself professionally, by keeping his head down and following the HRNZ guidelines and rules spoke for itself.

[26] For these reasons, he believed the penalty should be lower than the $500 fine sought by the RIB.

Decision as to penalty

[27] Mr Blanchard has used his whip seven times in a manner which was more than the permissible wrist only flicking action from the time the field entered the home straight when driving THE MIGHTY WARRIOR in “Heat 2 Mobile Pace – Left Handed” at the Auckland TC Workouts at Pukekohe on 3 July 2021.

[28] The HRNZ Penalty Guide for a whip breach has a $200 to $400 fine starting point for a low level breach, a $500 fine or 2-day suspension starting point for one that is mid-range, and a 3-day suspension starting point for a high level breach.

[29] This breach is mid-range. Mr Blanchard has inadvertently reverted to the old style in that there has been 7 strikes with the whip, free of the rein for a distance of over 50 metres before he has gone back to the reins. Thus, the starting point is a fine of $500. This figure is a guide only, of course. The RIB seeks a fine at this level. Mr Blanchard submits it should be lower because of the personal mitigating factors he has identified.

[30] Penalty should not be reduced because of the occasion of the race, and, to his credit, Mr Blanchard makes no such submission. While publicity of this incident would be lessened by the fact the breach was not featured on Trackside, as would have been the case were this incident at a race meeting, the breach would be evident, nonetheless, to those Industry participants on the day and to those racing enthusiasts who viewed the video of the Workouts on the HRNZ website. Mr Blanchard has acknowledged it is not a good look for the sport and has apologised.

[31] There are clear requirements in place for a fair and reasonable use of the whip in Harness Racing. There is a need for the penalty to take account the interests of animal welfare and to uphold the integrity of the Harness Industry.

[32] The Informant submits that guidance can be obtained from the decision in Wallace. The Committee agrees that this is the case. There are two points of difference. In the Wallace case the breach was high end as there was 9 strikes, whereas the number here is 7, and in Wallace the Respondent believed the horse was “bludging” and, each of the 9 strikes to the horse was very forceful with the Driver’s hand being lifted up to beside his helmet. Although Mr Blanchard’s hand is also raised high, he is adamant that the strikes were to the dust sheet and the shaft of the sulky, and not to the horse. While these still count as strikes, of course, under the Rules, the video evidence appears to support Mr Blanchard’s contention. These two points of difference warrant a distinction with the penalty imposed in Wallace.

[33] Mr Blanchard is a relatively young Trainer who does not currently drive on raceday. He has had a licence since the 07/08 season and in that time has had 166 raceday drives.

[34] Credit must be given for the Respondent’s good record, in particular, that this is his first whip-related breach although this is recognised by the starting point in the Penalty Guide, his clear remorse, and his admission of the breach, which could be viewed as inevitable given the clear video evidence. These personal mitigating factors merit a $50 reduction in the $500 starting point.

[35] The penalty is a fine of $450.

Costs

[36] The matter has been heard on the papers. There is no award of costs in favour of the RIU.

Dated at Dunedin this 29th day of July 2021.

Geoff Hall, Chairman

Decision Date: 29/07/2021

Publish Date: 30/07/2021