Irish amateur jockey Rob James expressed remorse and an “overwhelming sense of guilt, embarrassment and shame” for his “out of character” actions, in a hearing into a video of him sitting on a dead horse.
Mr James was given a 12-month suspension of his amateur jockey and point-to-point training permits, of which he is likely to serve four months, for acting “in a manner which was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing”. The sanction was handed down at an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referrals committee hearing yesterday (Wednesday, 10 March).
The committee found the video showed “extremely poor judgment” and a lack of respect, and understandably resulted in a public outcry, offending “all those involved in the racing industry and beyond”.
The video, from 2016, surfaced on social media last week (1 March) and the now 27-year-old immediately apologised for his behaviour, which he described as “wholly inappropriate and disrespectful to a lovely five-year-old mare”.
In his evidence at Wednesday’s hearing, Mr James said he was unaware such a video existed before it was brought to his attention last week, and he was “heartbroken when he saw it”.
The incident took place at trainer Colin Bowe’s premises and Mr James, who was 22 at the time, was riding out for the trainer when the mare, Three Hail Marys, died of a heart attack during exercise.
The hearing report stated Mr James said a senior staff member “encouraged him to jump on the mare, and being young and naïve [I] reacted to the peer pressure and did so for a couple of seconds before patting the mare as he got off her”. The member of staff who recorded the video no longer works with Mr Bowe.
“He admitted that it was a stupid act but not one that he would try to defend as that would only add insult to injury but he did immediately recognise his wrongdoing,” adds the IHRB referrals committee report.
“His action of patting the mare as he got off her was an attempt to show some respect having immediately realised what he had done.”
Mr James concluded, saying the incident has had a bad effect on his family and that he had “let everyone down at home”.
Speaking on Mr James’ behalf, vet Thomas O’Shea gave testimony to the jockey’s character, stating he had known the family since 1998 and in his experience, the rider has “always shown a love and respect for animals and a love for horses” and the video is “not typical of Mr James in any way”.
He added that he would often be on hand at Mr Bowe’s to assist with veterinary care and would show an interest in the wellbeing of the horses being treated.
Mr James’ mother, Olive, also gave evidence, with the hearing report stating the video “floored her entire family” and “was not at all characteristic” of her son.
“She recalled his love for all animals and the numerous occasions in which he rescued abandoned or lost animals and that throughout his entire live his consistent love has been for animals,” added the hearing report.
The decision, read out by Justice Leonie Reynolds, stated the whole incident took approximately 11 seconds and it is “clear that Mr James was encouraged by a senior member of staff to mount the dead animal”.
Ms Reynolds added that upon learning that the video existed and was being circulated, Mr James expressed his immediate sense of shame at his actions and his remorse for the same.
“He made an immediate statement acknowledging his wrongdoing, offered no excuses and apologised for his unacceptable behaviour and lack of judgement to all concerned,” she said.
“He further accepted the reputational damage he had done to the racing industry and offered his full cooperation to the IHRB in the investigation.”
The report added the committee accepts his evidence and are satisfied that he was “responding to peer pressure on the occasion”, and that the committee also received numerous testimonials and expert reports outlining his previous good character.
The committee concluded that there is no suggestion this is a horse welfare issue, but that “the only issue is the reputational damage to the racing industry”.
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“The committee is of the view that the video shows extremely poor judgement by Mr. James and a complete absence of respect for the deceased animal,” concludes the hearing report.
“It has understandably resulted in a public outcry and offended all those who are involved in the racing industry and beyond. There can be no doubt but that it has caused damage to the reputation and the integrity of horseracing and this is accepted by Mr James.”
The committee weighed up the actions, mitigation and the sanctions given in the Gordon Elliott case, while also taking into account the historic nature of the video, Mr James’ youth and immaturity at the time, his otherwise “impeccable” behaviour, his youth and his behavior immediately after the incident.
His qualified rider’s licence and handler’s permit were both suspended for a year from 15 March, with the sanctions suspended for eight months, and he was fined €1,000 (£857).
Mr James has also said he will not attend a race or point-to-point meeting during the four months of his suspension.
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