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IHRB Referral - Mr M J O'Connor

The Referrals Committee Mr. Robert Dore (in the chair), Mr. Philip Caffrey and Mr. Nicholas Lambert met at the Offices of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) on 11th June 2019 to consider two referrals relating to Mr. M.J. O’Connor (Rider).

The first referral related to a complaint regarding Mr. O’Connor’s conduct with the Stewards Secretaries and Medical Officers at the West Waterford (F) Point to Point fixture at Lismore on 10th March 2019. The second case related to a referral from the Acting Stewards at the Muskerry (F) Point to Point fixture at Dromahane on 5th May 2019 following Mr O'Connor's conduct in the Weight Tent area.

For the first referral, evidence was heard from Mr. O’Connor, Ms. Christine Kelly (Stewards Secretary) and Mr. Bernard Smullen (Stewards Secretary).

Ms. Kelly outlined that concerns had been raised about the wellbeing of Mr. O’Connor and that Dr. Anne Sheehan (IHRB Medical Officer) wished to speak to him. Ms. Kelly advised Dr. Sheehan to call him from the Weigh Tent but that Mr. O’Connor failed to cooperate with that request. Ms. Kelly said that Mr. O’Connor was later verbally threatening towards her in the Weigh Tent area.

Mr. Smullen said that people had approached him to suggest Mr. O’Connor had looked ill and as a result of these concerns he approached Mr. O’Connor in the presence of Ms. Kelly about this. Mr. O’Connor informed him that he had been with Dr. Joe O’Keeffe (Medical Officer) but reacted angrily and used threatening behaviour towards Ms. Kelly and himself during this conversation. Mr. Smullen added that Mr. O’Connor accused him of bullying him.

In his evidence, Mr. O’Connor said that on arrival to the Point to Point he had made his way to the Mobile Medical Unit to see a Doctor but there was no available Doctor at the time. He then walked the track and presented himself to Dr. O’Keeffe after this and stated that Dr. O’Keeffe was satisfied that he was fit to ride on this day. Mr. O’Connor denied that he felt unwell during racing and stated that he had sustained an injury during a race and it was possible that this is why people felt he looked unwell. Mr. O’Connor outlined his typical day at the races where he presents himself to the Doctor on duty due to an ongoing medical requirement and that he was satisfied he had carried this out on the day in question. Mr. O’Connor admitted to having a conversation with Ms. Kelly and Mr. Smullen but he challenged the truthfulness of their evidence.

Having been satisfied that all evidence was heard, the Referrals Committee and Mr. O’Connor agreed to progress to the second referral.

On the day, following the running of the fifth race, Ms. Christine Kelly (Stewards Secretary), overheard an altercation in the Riders changing area.  Following failed requests by Ms. Kelly for the Riders to tone it down, she then requested Mr. Bernard Smullen (Stewards Secretary) to intervene and Mr. Michael Kelleher (Acting Steward) was also in the tent at that time. As a result of Mr. O’Connor’s conduct following Mr. Smullen’s intervention, it was deemed appropriate to deal with the matter through a Stewards Enquiry.  Following the Stewards Enquiry, it was decided to refer the matter to the Referrals Committee of the IHRB.

Evidence was heard from Mr. Kelleher, Mr. Smullen and Ms. Kelly where each outlined what had occurred on the day, and from Mr. O'Connor.

Ms. Kelly said Mr. O’Connor and Mr. B.D. O’Neill (Rider) had failed to obey to a number of her requests to tone it down and when Mr. Smullen and Mr. Kelleher attempted to intervene that Mr. O’Connor accused Mr. Smullen of bullying him and a Stewards Enquiry was then called.

In his evidence, Mr. Smullen said he felt intimidated by Mr. O’Connor’s verbally abusive and threatening manner to towards him especially outside the Stewards Enquiry.

Mr. Kelleher said that he was in conversation with Mr. Smullen and Ms. Kelly at the declaration area when voices were raised from inside the Riders changing area. Following requests from Ms. Kelly for the Riders to tone it down, Mr. Kelleher joined Mr. Smullen to intervene at which point Mr. O’Connor became very animated and Mr. Kelleher asked him to calm down.

In his evidence, Mr. O’Connor admitted that he was discussing the race with fellow rider Mr. B.D. O’Neill but didn’t feel that their conversation was overly loud or warranted being brought to the attention of the Stewards. Mr. O’Connor admitted speaking back to the Officials and Stewards in an unruly manner and this was the first time in 20 years that he had done so.

Having considered the evidence of both referrals, the Referrals Committee found Mr. O’Connor had breached Rule 272(i) in that he acted in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing on both occasions, given the nature of the comments made to Ms. Kelly at Lismore and Mr. Smullen at Muskerry. Owing to the serious nature of the incidents the Referrals Committee adjourned consideration of sanction to Monday 1st July to allow Mr. O’Connor time to receive advice and to make submissions in mitigation if he so wished.

The Referrals Committee reconvened at the Offices of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board on Monday 1st July and heard a submission from Mr. O’Connor and also received written submissions on behalf of Mr. O’Connor.

Having considered the submissions, the Referrals Committee imposed a two-year suspension on Mr. O’Connor’s Qualified Riders’ licence from 15th July 2019. It was agreed that the Referrals Committee would review the matter in 12 months on application by the Rider. The Referrals Committee asked that it be noted that in the event of Mr. O’Connor getting his licence restored after 12 months any further breach of Rule 272(i) within a 12-month period would reactivate the suspended portion of the penalty.

 The case was presented by Cliodhna Guy, Head of Legal, Licensing & Compliance.

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