Thursday, March 20, 2014

The wrong stand?

We're getting used to this with Indira: on Tuesday she paid her fifth visit to the unsaddling enclosure from her six runs, but she's still a maiden.  As so often happens at Southwell, it was an odd race, with the winner winning by seven lengths; but second, third, fourth and fifth all had a reasonable tussle with each others, so she didn't run badly in finishing fourth.  She seemed to be making heavy weather of it from a long way out, so again she was very brave.  Anyway, in short, we have nothing to show for the run, but it was not a bad effort.  God willing, things will all fall into place sooner rather than later for her.  She's a wonderfully tough and willing battler, so she deserves a win.

The big story of the day, of course, was not Indira's fourth place, but Pat Cosgrave's 6-month suspension in Dubai.  That really was stunning - and I'm writing from the point of view of someone who took a dim view of Pat's riding on the day.  There's no excuse for doing what he did, ie looking around to check the whereabouts of his better-fancied stablemate, and then moving over to make sure that that horse doesn't get boxed in.  It's indefensible, not least because if makes it look as if he might have had a bet on the other horse, and that's an appalling impression to be giving.  But in the great scheme of things, it's hard to see how anyone could work out that his undoubted misdemeanour merits a 6-month ban, bearing in mind that he gave his horse a faultless ride in every other respect, and actually probably rated him better than most of the other riders in the field did their mounts.

I was expecting him to be severely reprimanded and cautioned as to his future conduct, with an accompanying word in his ear to say that if he ever did it again, he'd be for the high jump.  Maybe this WAS his second offence and this IS the high jump, but if so that's news to me.  One should, of course, mention that there is a precedent for a jockey in this situation receiving a six-month ban: that's what 'The Sherriff' John Schreck handed out to Shane Dye after the 1987 AJC Derby at Randwick, when Shane moved off the rail on Dr. Geoff Chapman's second string Imprimatur to let the first string (the Mark de Montfort-ridden Myocard, who won the race) through.

But that was Sydney in the '80s, when The Sherriff was in town, when Ron Quinton received a three-month ban for causing interference when winning the Golden Slipper on Marauding, interference which didn't cause a fall and which wasn't serious enough to be interpreted as foul riding, which would have seen his mount disqualified.  And it was the '80s anyway, when penalties in general were far harsher than is the case nowadays - and it was, after all, in Sydney, where penalties at the time were far harsher than anywhere else anyway.  Pat would have received a six-month ban had he done that in Sydney in the '80s and he wouldn't have had any grounds for complaint.  But nowadays?  Well, you'd expect a slap on the wrist.

In France such a manoeuvre wouldn't attract any attention at all, but I'm not suggesting that the base ourselves on the French model (with horses in the same ownership coupled for betting purposes, and with the only requirement being that the jockey on one of the entity is trying, with the others free to ride their horses as uncompetitively as they like) .  We've seen umpteen similar instances in Britain or Ireland (often involving either Godolphin or Coolmore) go unpunished, but I think that it is now the case that in Britain a week's ban would be the penalty.  I am indebted to Graham Cunningham for reminding us that that is what Johnny Murtagh and Colm O'Donoghue received for 'team tactics' after Duke Of Marmalade won the Juddmonte International when it was run at Newmarket after the Ebor Meeting was washed out in 2008; and I am indebted to Robert Havlin for pointing out that BHA Rule b57.1 states that the offence for making a manouevre to allow another horse a clear run but causing no interference is 5 to 10 days.

It is, of course, terrible to adopt a habit of saying that, because a misdemeanour carries such and such a punishment in one's own country, it should carry that punishment in all other countries. That's xenophobic nonsense.  But, even so - SIX BLOODY MONTHS!  (And in a country where there is no betting, which ought to make this less of an issue, rather than more).  All I can say is that it would disappointing if the ban weren't reduced by at least 95% on appeal; and, if it weren't reduced, it would be disappointing if the BHA didn't elect not to reciprocate the ban, bearing in mind that it took the major step last year (with the Martin Dwyer Indian thing) of setting a precedent that, if a jockey is given a punishment by an overseas turf authority which, by our standards, is completely beyond the pale, it won't be applied here.

As regards the appeal, the most important thing for Pat to take with him into the appeal is a video of the 2001 Irish Champion Stakes (after which no bans were handed out) in which the tactics used by the Godolphin team were similar, only worse (ie not only did the rider of the Godolphin pacemaker move off the rail to let the Godolphin first string Fantastic Light through, but he also forced the main rival Galileo wide in the process, thus affecting the result, bearing in mind that Galileo failed only narrowly to catch Fantastic Light).  As Timeform reported, "Fantastic Light made the first move, striking for home as Give The Slip was eased off the rail on the final turn to allow him through.  Galileo had to begin his own challenge three-wide, racing round the outside of Give The Slip ...".  It's worth remembering that all employees of the ERA are, in effect, indirectly employed by Sheikh Mohammed, so I would suggest that Pat points out to the stewards that they might like to reflect on the fact that these are tactics which their boss appears happy to adopt.

Anyway, God knows what has got into the ERA stewards.  Over the years the ERA has, rightly or wrongly, given the impression of being a cosy little club.  Godolphin's travails over the past year or so certainly have only served to add to this impression (as, incidentally, do the folksy, homely, cheer-leading race-calls of Terry Spargo).  And the fact that Pat Cosgrave even felt that it might be OK to do what he did in the race shows how far down the wrong road, the road towards laissez-faire cosiness, the ERA had gone.  Maybe a decision has been taken, in the aftermath of Lord Stevens' report, to make it clear to the world that the ERA is not just that cosy little club which it had always seemed.  If so, I applaud the stand which it has decided to make - but I also urge it to consider whether this was indeed the correct issue on which to make it.

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