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J.A. Heffernan (Rider) Appeal - Dundalk 12 April 2024

The Appeals Body, Mr Justice Tony Hunt (Chairperson), Ms Meta Osborne and Ms Mary Cosgrave, convened in the Stewards Room at The Curragh Racecourse on Sunday, 21 April, to consider the appeal of Seamus Heffernan (Rider) following the decision of the Raceday Stewards at Dundalk on Friday, 12 April 2024.

Following the running of the Get Best Odds Guaranteed BetVictor Maiden, the Raceday Stewards found Mr Heffernan, rider of Dairago, was in breach of Regulation 10.3(g) in that he had used his whip with excessive frequency and having considered his record in this regard they suspended him for 16 racedays.

The grounds of appeal lodged by Mr Heffernan was that at least one of the strikes was for corrective and safety purposes.

At the Appeal Hearing, evidence was heard from Mr Heffernan. The Appeals Body also watched a recording of the race.

In his evidence, Mr Heffernan explained at least one strike was used as a corrective measure as his mount was inexperienced and making his racecourse debut. Mr Heffernan stated that as some of the runners got tight for room, his mount was slow going into the gap and he didn’t want his mount to back out as he was trying to avoid interference. Mr Heffernan said he was unsure whether or not contact was made in one instance. Mr Heffernan added that since his previous breaches he had taken action to change his riding style to be more conscious of his whip use.

Having considered the evidence, the Appeals Body were satisfied that Mr Heffernan was in breach of Regulation 10.3(g) in that he appeared to use his whip with excessive frequency, and that the Raceday Stewards did not err in finding him in breach of Regulation. They also did not consider that any use of the whip was justified by reference to corrective action.

As to the issue of sanction, the Appeals Body received additional and lengthy legal submissions that were not available to the Raceday Stewards in imposing a sanction in line with the applicable Guidelines, In this regard, the Appeals Body noted that such Guidelines are an important aid to achieving consistency, and should only be departed from for stated reasons. A panel was obliged to consider mitigating factors and submissions addressed to it and could depart from the Guidelines if persuaded that there was a valid reason for so doing.    

In this case, Mr Coonan pointed to the fact that that Mr Heffernan’s three previous breaches had occurred in quick succession in a short period in August and September of last year and that over seven months and 244 rides had elapsed since Mr Heffernan’s last whip offence, which did not involve excessive frequency. The Appeals Body therefore accepted that he had made significant efforts to address and improve his whip technique. Although the Appeals Body did not consider that the Raceday Stewards had erred in their decision on the evidence and submissions available to them at the initial enquiry, in the light of the additional mitigation put forward on appeal, they reduced Mr Heffernan’s suspension to 10 racedays.

The appeal was presented by Mr Andrew Coonan on behalf of Mr Heffernan. The IHRB was represented by Mr Liam Walsh, IHRB Senior Stipendiary Steward, and Ms Clíodhna Guy, IHRB Head of Licensing, Legal and Compliance.

Suspension dates:  26, 27, 29 April, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13 May


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