As the build-up for the Grand National continues, the Independent’s Chris McGrath examines the ease with which a competing newspaper violated the sanctity of the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Hedgehunter’s stable.
The most precious picture of a racehorse tends to be the one taken by the judge’s camera, determining the result of a photo-finish, but that might not have been the case at Aintree this year. Fortunately for the racing authorities, the undercover Sun reporter who obtained access to Hedgehunter’s stable here on Thursday could last night be said to have forced a dead-heat at best.
True, he had managed to infiltrate the racecourse stable yard, by the simple ruse of following one of the runners off the track while carrying a horse blanket and a bucket and talking distractedly into his phone. And he had indeed got himself photographed with one of the Grand National favourites. But CCTV footage showed him having a long, innocuous chat with two employees of Willie Mullins, Hedgehunter’s trainer – one of whom civilly acceded to his request of a picture of the equine celebrity who ran away with the race last year.
“It is very common that we get requests for a photograph to be taken with the horse,” Mullins said. “It happens three or four times a day. People even drive into the yard at home and ask. So my staff considered what he was asking to be perfectly normal.
“Considering the amount of traffic, in both people and horses, security is very hard at a place like this. No matter what you do, it’s impossible to keep everyone out. If someone wants to get in badly enough, you may not be able to stop them. That’s why we bring extra people over when we have a runner like this, as additional security. He is accompanied throughout the day, until the stables are locked and everyone is thrown out.”
Peter Webbon, director of the Horseracing Regulatory Authority, considered the stunt a hollow victory. “They have embarrassed us in the sense that he gained access to the yard,” he said. “Obviously, we will review what might have been done differently to prevent him getting in. But while they shouldn’t have been there in the first place, the CCTV has worked extremely well in that it would have given us the identity and movement.”