A race 'won' by a 7-4 shot at Killarney on Thursday was declared void 20 minutes after it had finished, with the senior stipendiary steward declaring himself "100 per cent happy" with the controversial decision.
Peter Matthews, who was an acting steward at the course, said officials were right to deem that winner Stars Over The Sea had an unfair advantage at the start of the Rentokil Initial (Q.R.) Race.
Stars Over The Sea came home five lengths in front of Ancient Sands and many bookmakers, both on and off course, had already paid out winnings when the race was voided under rule 10.
The six-year-old, trained by Henry de Bromhead, was led in to the tapes and benefited from a significant headstart. He was never headed and won convincingly.
The decision to void the race has cost Paddy Power "well into six figures", while bookmakers at the track were also out of pocket. Paddy Power and Betfair Sportsbook are paying out on the winner and refunding all other bets.
Speaking about the decision, Matthews said: "I am 100 per cent happy with the decision. The stewards deemed it wasn't a fair start, that the winner got a flyer and was a significant distance ahead of most of the runners to the first bend and, under rule 10, declared the race void.
"We had to hear evidence and every jockey bar the winning one said they didn't get a fair start. I would have expected that with a horse like that [Stars Over The Sea], you either withdraw him or send the other runners back with to walk in with the horse. The starter had asked every other runner to stand and wait and they did stand."
He added: "There are rules that starters are supposed to obey as well as the jockeys and that's what we would expect and we didn't think there was a fair start and declared it void.
"The matter now has been referred to the Turf Club."
'A split-second thing'
The starter on duty was Joe Banahan, who did not call a false start. He said: "It was a split-second thing and that horse got away quicker than the others. My job as a starter is try to give everyone a fair chance and that is what I tried to do."
Derek O'Connor, who was on board the runner-up Ancient Sands, said: "Joe [Banahan, starter] was in a tricky situation and he was trying to do his best by every rider.
"It turned out that the Henry de Bromhead horse got an advantage because he was on the blind side and Joe might not have seen him coming forward. It was a split-second decision. There is no winner in a void race and I wish there was another outcome."
Patrick Mullins, third on the hot favourite Clondaw Warrior, agreed it was not an ideal outcome, saying: "It's an unfortunate scenario. I have huge sympathy for Joe. He's a very good starter, one of the best. It happens. We all makes mistakes."
Thomas Cummins, who sent out The Golden Punto to take fourth and Go Be A Hero, was furious with the decision to void the race. He made the trip from Waterford and his horses would have picked up €975 in prize-money but instead was left out of pocket.
"It is a nightmare for me," Cummins said. "My two horses finished fourth and fifth and I should have got the best part of a thousand euro but now I get nothing? I drove all the way here. And I have to pay my jockeys as well. It's not good enough."
Bookmakers on and off the track were hit hard too. Paul Binfield, spokesman for Paddy Power, said: "We've paid out well into six figures on the race. We had already settled the winner before it was announced void and then we continued to pay out on Stars Over The Sea as it would have been cruel for punters who backed him not to collect. He was the best horse in the race and they deserved their money."
It was a nightmare scenario for on-course bookmakers too and Seamus Mulvaney, one of the longest-serving layers at Killarney, said he had paid out more than €1,200 in winnings before the race was declared void.
To make matters worse, Mulvaney had racegoers picking up dockets off the ground and trying to claim them as their own, as many punters had already thrown away what they believed to be losing bets before the race was declared void.
One young girl arrived with a crumpled up docket asking to be refunded. The docket in question was a €400 wager on Clondaw Warrior. Fortunately, Mulvaney knew the customer in question and had already refunded him without the docket.
"It's an absolute nightmare," said Mulvaney. "Sure I'm here trying to remember faces and who put bets on. I've had all sorts of people who have just picked up dockets off the ground wanting to be paid. Some of them I had refunded already. It's hugely frustrating."