Yet another case of mistaken identity has had punters and racing enthusiasts hot under the collar.
With the NHA’s procedures having run their course, we chatted to Clinton Binda to find out what happened.
How matters unfolded
At the Vaal meeting on Tuesday, 6 February 2018, Clinton Binda brought three horses to the course – Whorly Whorly and Trouble Maker carded to run in race 3 and Night Shadow, carded to run in race 5.
Whorly Whorly is a long-standing Binda inmate, while Trouble Maker (Captain Al – Badger’s Cove) and Night Shadow (Silvano – Saratoga Shadow) were relatively new. The two horses had arrived at the yard in late 2017 as part of a consignment of 8 horses from PE. Both horses were to race in the interests of the Hollywood Syndicate & Dreamstar Racing and were both making their debut for the yard on Tuesday, 6 February.
Clinton saddled his two runners for the third race, a 1000m MR86 Handicap, which saw Whorly Whorly finishing 1.4 lengths off the winner in 5th place and Trouble Maker finishing 9.2 lengths last in the field of 10.
Where the problem surfaced
Ahead of race 5, it was discovered that the horse presented as Night Shadow was not, in fact, a 6yo Silvano gelding, but was instead found to be the 6yo Captain Al gelding named Trouble Maker that had been carded to run in the third race. Clinton’s runner for the 5th race was immediately scratched.
An objection was lodged by a member of the Central Provinces Stipendiary Board in terms of Rule 68.3.4 (that the HORSE ran in a RACE for which it was not entered), which was heard at the NHA offices at Turffontein on Friday, 9 February 2018. The Board reached the unanimous opinion that the horse named NIGHT SHADOW ran in the 3rd Race on 6 February 2018 at the Vaal Racecourse under the name TROUBLE MAKER and accordingly upheld the objection.
In terms of Rule 69.6 the horse that ran as TROUBLE MAKER was disqualified from the 3rd Race on 6 February 2018 at the Vaal Racecourse and all records pertaining to TROUBLE MAKER in relation to Race 3 on this particular day are to be expunged from the official records.
Following the objection, an inquiry into the incident was held at the NHA offices at Turffontein on Wednesday, 14 February 2018 where Clinton Binda was charged with a contravention of Rule 72.1.45 (no PERSON shall present a HORSE to race where the HORSE in question is not the HORSE identified in the passport and/or is not the HORSE carded for the RACE in question). The Inquiry Board entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf, then found him guilty of the charge. They imposed a penalty of a fine of R20 000.00, of which R10 000.00 is wholly suspended for a period of 1 (one) year, provided that during this period he is not convicted of a contravention of the same rule.
Miss Tanya Pilgrim, the NHA Horse Identifier on duty at the Vaal Racecourse on Tuesday, 6 February, 2018, was suspended pending a disciplinary hearing.
From the horse’s mouth
Now that the matter has been settled by the NHA and all the parties dealt with, Clinton Binda has chosen to share his version of events.
“There has been a lot of discussion about it and I wanted to explain from my side how it happened,” he explains. “First and foremost, I understand that it was a serious mistake, but I’d like to stress that it was a genuine mistake that required a ‘perfect storm’ of build up mistakes for the wrong horse to run on race day. Unfortunately that’s what happened. Night Shadow and Trouble Maker arrived in my yard as part of a group of 8 horses. Obviously when they arrived, we ID’d the horses, but we don’t have a scanner, so we did it off the passport ID page. The two horses look very similar and somewhere, somewhere along the line, someone got confused. There are a lot of scenarios that could have happened – it’s possible that the wrong horse arrived with the wrong sticker – but who knows. The two horses have very similar markings and we got it wrong, it’s as simple as that.”
Apart from a difference in height, both horses are plain bays with a tiny white star and since their arrival, each horse has been trained as the other, with no-one ever suspecting they’d got them the wrong way round.
To compound matters, there was a second muddle on race day. When the passports were handed in to the race day office, in addition to Night Shadow being presented as Trouble Maker for the third race, Night Shadow’s passport also ended up in the pile for race 3. When the runners were presented for the 3rd race, the horse identifier did a visual check against the ID page and scanned the microchip, both of which matched as she had Night Shadow’s passport in her hand. With no-one picking up the name discrepancy, Night Shadow ended up running race 3 as Trouble Maker.
When the horse identifier checked the field for the 5th race and Trouble Maker’s passport was presented, the name discrepancy was found. “We then looked at the passport – the stipes and the vet – and all agreed that the markings were correct as per the ID page. We went to fetch the passport for Night Shadow and when we checked the microchips, we found out that we were looking at Trouble Maker and not Night Shadow. But the two horses are that similar that even the stipes and vet needed the scanner to tell them apart.”
“I’m not blaming anyone,” says Clinton emphatically. “When a plane crashes, it’s not because of one fault, it’s usually as a result of a multitude of faults and that’s exactly what happened here. It’s uncanny that the horses look so similar, it’s unfortunate that we didn’t pick up the mistake at home and presented the wrong horse on race day and it was just unlucky that when the horse identifier scanned the horse, Tanya had the wrong passport in her hand. It’s the only way the microchip numbers could have correlated.”
It takes a village
“What are the chances that I would be sent two such similar looking horses?” he continues. “And what are the chances that the difference was not picked up at the yard? It was unfortunate that they were older horses. If you mis-ID a baby – and it happens often, believe me – you soon rectify it when you pass them through the pens, because horses get scanned before they go in. If these had been youngsters that had to go through the pens, we would have found it straightaway and they would never have gone to the racecourse as the wrong horses. But they didn’t. And we don’t have a scanner and unless you scanned the horses, it’s impossible to know exactly who was who.”
“Then what are the chances that both those two specific horses would go to the track together on the same day and on top of that, that the passports got muddled in the race day office? Tanya checked the ID page and she checked the microchip and they both matched – it was just unfortunate she had the wrong passport in her hand. The only thing that was missed was the name. And it’s not that Tanya isn’t diligent,” he continues, “because she was correct with the horse in the 5th race, but somehow there was a slip in the 3rd.”
“As I said in the enquiry, there was nothing untoward about the whole thing. We simply mis-ID’d the horses. So what happened was not an isolated incident, but rather the result of the cumulative effect of a number of mistakes, which ultimately led to the incorrect horse being raced at the Vaal last Tuesday.”
In terms of the enquiry and the penalty meted out, Clinton explains that the NHA combined two charges into one. “The first charge was for presenting the wrong horse, which I am guilty of and I said I’m guilty, and the second charge was racing the wrong horse. I said I’m not guilty of that, the NHA is guilty of that. If they had checked correctly, they would have picked up the issue and the wrong horse would not have run, but they allowed the incorrect horse to run. That’s the ‘uncertainty’ that’s referred to in the press release. But I was not uncertain, I just said that I am guilty of presenting the wrong horse, but not of running the wrong horse. But they wouldn’t make it two separate charges,” he explains.
Clinton has taken the result and the fine on the chin and says he holds no malice towards the horse identifier. “Miss Pilgrim has been doing ID’s and checking passports ever since I’ve had my trainers’ license and I’ve never ever had a problem with her work. She’s always been diligent with everything she does. But I suppose if you do something so many thousand times, there’s a good chance you’ll make a mistake at some point and unfortunately a mistake was made. Unfortunately she made a mistake when I’d already made a mistake and then the race day office also made a mistake, which resulted in the wrong horse running. But there was no malice intended and it was an honest mistake.”