What Happens if the Jockey Rides to the Wrong Winning Post in Horse Racing?

Isolated Horse and Jockey Racing on TurfThe life of a jockey certainly isn’t an easy one; all that fasting and shedding pounds in the sauna, the ever-present threat of injury – for jumps jockeys in particular – and the difficult task of getting the tactics right during the race. In the midst of all of that, you would expect that knowing the location of the winning post would be one of the more straightforward tasks faced by our gallant band of riders.

With the ultimate goal being to win the race, it’s hard to think of a more essential piece of knowledge than an awareness of exactly where the race ends. Jockeys would surely never get it wrong… would they?

It turns out that they would, and far more often than you might imagine. Clearly, whenever this occurs, the consequences can only be bad for the connections of the horse, those with the misfortune to have backed it, and of course, the jockeys themselves, who receive a percentage of prize money as a major source of their income.

Here we take a closer look at those jockeys whose judgement has deserted them in the heat of battle, highlighting a few recent examples and examining the punishments dished out to these errant riders.

How Can it Happen?

First things first, how on earth can this even happen to begin with? The glorious winning post is right there in plain view, representing the beacon at which either triumph or disappointment is determined. Punters at the track can see it, as can viewers on TV, commentators, and pretty much anyone who opts to look in its general direction. For the riders themselves, this focus on their final destination must surely only be intensified – even accounting for the concentration required to navigate their mount through the race.

Nevertheless, this mental mishap can, and does, occur from time to time, and is almost always down to one of three reasons:

  • The course has more than one winning post – Many tracks throughout Britain and Ireland have not one, but two – and occasionally even more – winning posts. This confusion-inducing feature is particularly prevalent at National Hunt venues – many of which have one winning post for the hurdles course and another for the chase track. Adding to the potential for disaster is the fact that these separate winning posts are often positioned relatively close together. Whilst jockeys should, of course, always know which is the relevant winning post for the race in which they are riding, it is at least possible to imagine that a rider may slip up when switching between a hurdles race to a chase and then back to hurdles in the space of the same afternoon.
  • Mistaking Distance marker for the winning post – In addition to the post marking the winning line, flat racecourses also have posts spread around the track signifying the distance left to run in the race. These posts are typically situated at one-furlong intervals, in addition to a post half a furlong from home. Designed to let the viewing public know that the end of the race is in sight, these half-furlong posts are also prime candidates to be mistaken for the winning line.
  • The runners pass the winning post on more than one occasion – The typical racecourse in the UK has a circumference of between a mile and 1m4f. Any race run over a distance in excess of this circumference will therefore require the runners to pass the winning post more than once, and sometimes up to three times in marathon contests. When failing in the task of knowing which lap they are on, jockeys know exactly where the winning post is, but opt to ride out a limbs-flailing driving finish a lap too soon – as the rest of the field look on at the madman out in front.

Is it Covered in the Rules?

Wooden Gavel In Front of Open Book

Thankfully, the vast majority of the time, the riders know where the winning post is, and manage to save their finishing effort for the final run to the line at the end of the race. However, as we shall see, mistakes do occur, and those in charge of policing the sport are tasked with punishing the offending riders.

Barring an incredibly imaginative excuse, any jockey who rides to the wrong winning post will be in breach of Rule 156, which states,

“Where, in the opinion of the Stewards or the Stewards of the Jockey Club, a horse has not achieved its best possible placing because one of the circumstances detailed below arose by reason of an error of judgement on the part of its Rider, the Rider shall be deemed in breach of this Rule and guilty of an offence.”

The specified circumstances are:

  • Failing to ride out approaching the finish by dropping hands.
  • Mistaking the race distance and either riding a finish too early or failing to ride a finish.
  • Taking the wrong course.

Riding to the wrong winning post, or compelling their mount to a lung-busting effort a lap too soon, are clearly actions which greatly diminish the horse’s chances of entering the winner’s enclosure. Given the negative financial impact this may have on others – namely owners, trainers, and punters, not to mention the potential damage to the reputation of the sport – a punishment of some description is in order. As such, any rider who fails in this way can expect to be handed a ban, with the length of this ban dependent upon the severity of the offence.

The Hall of Shame

White Question Mark Speech Bubble Against Red Background

So that’s how it can happen, and the likely type of punishment dished out. Time to take a look at a collection of confused riders in all their glory.

Neil Callan: Kempton – 26th October 2022

Horse Trainer Odds Finish
Ballet Blanc Amanda Perrett 50/1 10th of 10

With Halloween on the horizon in 2022, Irish jockey Neil Callan produced a horror show of his own at Kempton. Vastly experienced, with major wins in Britain, Germany, Hong Kong and Italy, 43-year-old Callan is one of the last riders you would expect to lose track of his senses mid-race. Alas, his wits did indeed depart, as Callan opted to go for home aboard Ballet Blanc in the two-mile staying handicap – oblivious of the fact that there was still a lap to go. Exhausted by that premature sprint finish, Ballet Blanc ultimately trailed home last of all, beaten by the small matter of 116 lengths.

“It was a complete cock-up,” said Callan, who offered to refund the owners with their entry fee for the race. The Stewards understandably took a dim view of the performance and slapped the jockey with a 12-day ban.

Joe Anderson: Worcester – 17th May 2023

Horse Trainer Odds Finish
Trolley Boy Neil Mulholland 11/10 2nd of 8

Conditional rider Joe Anderson has made a promising start to his career in the saddle, racking up a respectable total of wins over hurdles and fences. However, the eventmasters.co.uk Handicap Hurdle at Worcester on 17th May 2023 is unlikely to feature prominently on the jockeys highlights reel. Looking set for a narrow victory aboard the 11/10f Trolley Boy, Anderson seemed to mistake the half-furlong pole for the winning line, with predictably disastrous results.

It was a heartbreaking manner for jolly backers to see their cash go up in flames and Anderson was duly handed a 10-day ban to contemplate his actions.

Mark Crehan: Doncaster – 17th July 2021

Horse Trainer Odds Finish
Aerion Power Sir Michael Stoute 9/4 2nd of 5

Errors by inexperienced riders are by no means restricted to the jumps game, with three-pound apprentice Mark Crehan producing his own tour de force in ineptitude at Doncaster in 2021. All appeared to be going swimmingly for Crehan aboard the well-fancied Aerion Power, with the jockey having the race in safekeeping at the half-furlong pole. Sadly, the half-furlong pole is not the winning line, as Crehan found out to his cost.

“Oh goodness me!” said the race commentator. The Stewards meanwhile responded with a 28-day ban for the rider.

Ben Bromley: Sandown – 3rd December 2022

Horse Trainer Odds Finish
Call Me Lord Nicky Henderson 9/4 2nd of 11

Predominantly associated with the yard of Harry Fry, young jockey Ben Bromley has been building an admirable reputation as a rising jockey to keep an eye on, with a number of excellent rides in the book and an impressive 17% strike rate. However, it hasn’t all been rosy in the Bromley garden, and the low point of his career to date came in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Sandown in 2022.

Picking up the ride aboard the talented Call Me Lord from the yard of Nicky Henderson, Bromley looked to have judged things to perfection in forging ahead over the last and seeming set to hold on as the line approached, making one last push to ensure he got the job done. Unfortunately, that push came at the winning post for the chase course, and by the time the hurdles winning line appeared, amateur rider David Maxwell had forged ahead on Dolphin Square to win by barely a nostril. It was a mistake of only a few yards, but one which made all the difference, and earnt Bromley a 28-day ban for the breach of Rule 156, with an additional four days tacked on for overuse of the whip.

Roger Loughran: Leopardstown – 27th December 2005

Horse Trainer Odds Finish
Central House Dessie Hughes 11/4 3rd of 5

Heading into the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown in 2005, Roger Loughran was on a high, having recently turned professional. Handed the ride aboard Central House in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase, Loughran was no doubt keen to seize his chance on the big stage on only his second day in the pro ranks. And seize it he did, showing real strength to drive Central House into the lead, before celebrating wildly… 100 yards before the winning post

“What a disaster!” said the Irish race commentator. “A 10-day ban,” said the Irish Stewards. On the plus side, if you are going to have a career-defining howler, your might as well do it in style on one of Irish racing’s biggest stages. Credit to Loughran, who bounced back from this humiliating experience to win a trio of Grade 2 contests aboard Central House later in the 2005/06 season.