Sunday, September 13, 2015

The bowler's Holding, the batman's Willey

Gee, we've plenty to discuss after events at Doncaster and Leopardstown yesterday (Saturday).  So, where to start?  At the most important place, of course - which was, naturally, Chester on Friday.  Blue Sea Of Ibrox finished seventh of nine on her belated Flat debut at the age of seven, beaten 11 lengths.  That was OK: no better nor worse than that.  She might have a future on the Flat (and, if not, can always go back over jumps) so we might as well press on and find out as soon as we can.  On that basis,  she might run again this week (when she holds an entry for a maiden race at Pontefract on Thursday).

We had the unusual situation in her race, incidentally, of John Egan riding against us.  Earlier in the week he had been pencilled in to ride Blue Sea Of Ibrox, but he rang me on Wednesday morning prior to declaration time to say that Godolphin wanted him to ride two horses at the meeting, and that one of them was in her race - and what should he do?  As you can imagine, before he had got any farther, my retort was, "Well, that's wonderful - you've got to ride for Godolphin - you can't turn them down".  So that was lovely.  Everyone was happy.  Both John's Godolphin rides won, and our mare ran pleasingly, well ridden by Martin Lane, a classic example of the type of jockey who demonstrates that it is not only female riders who are grossly overlooked.  If she runs on Thursday, John will ride her if available; if not, I hope that Martin will be available to ride her again.

On to the less significant action (!) of the following day.  We've had plenty of discussion about the aftermath of the finishes of the St. Leger and the Irish Champion Stakes, which ought to mean that we'll have no more of it here.  However, why not?  What's one more opinion on top of several thousand others?  However, I don't need to say too much, because the topic has been very well covered by Neil Kearns in the comments' section of the previous chapter.  Regarding the St. Leger, it was clearly not incorrect to demote (not disqualify, as was erroneously stated on Channel Four) Simple Verse: she given a couple of hefty bumps to Bondi Beach, and it is hard to argue that the hindrance was not worth more than a head of distance.

At the same time, I don't think that it would have been entirely wrong to have allowed the placings to have remained unaltered.  So you'd have thought that the stewards were in a lovely position: they wouldn't be wrong whatever they did.  Life, of course, does not work like that, because in practice they would have been deemed by a large number of people to have got it wrong, whatever they had done.  But that's life: it's not just that one can't please all the people all the time, because the truth is that you can't please all the people any of the time.

The issue of "consistency" has inevitably been raised.  That's a red herring, though.  The fact that one can have commited an offence with impunity on one or more previous occasions should not be license to commit the same offence in the future.  You'd be mad if a policeman pulled you over for doing 80mph down the motorway, and you hit him with, "No, this is all wrong.  You can't penalize me for this because I've driven down this same stretch of road at 80mph every day for the past three weeks, and you have never pulled me over before today".

Of course there have been occasions when horses who ought to have been demoted have not been demoted (eg when Majestic Moon leaned on and hampered Suzi's Connoisseur - who races in the same ownership, ironically, as Simple Verse - throughout the final 300m at Ascot eight days ago before beating his victim by half a length) but that should not be used for compounded the error by repeating it.  In fact, I think the recent mistakes might have been responsible for the benefit of the doubt going towards the demotion of Simple Verse yesterday, because it has been so glaring recently that races have been policed too laxly.

I didn't see Realtra's win in the Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster earlier in the week, but I did read a consequent tweet from a sensible Australian observer: "The way horses and their jockeys are allowed to cause so much carnage in UK racing these days and keep the race is a joke. #Sceptre".  I think that that sums it up - and I think that even the stewards must have been starting to realise how bad things were becoming.  So I think that it's not unrealistic to say that the failure to demote Majestic Moon at Ascot may have been partially responsible for the demotion of Simple Verse - and I'm sure that the irony of that won't be lost on Sheikh Fahad, who was the loser in each decision.

The same Aussie observer made another sensible observation after the Irish Champion Stakes: "I actually think that Golden Horn was going to win but he does not deserve to keep this.".  I can't say it any better than that - and I'd like to emphasise that Frankie Dettori did absolutely nothing wrong.  But Golden Horn did, and his actions have cost Free Eagle's connections a lot of money.  I hope that Frankie hasn't received any penalty for what happened - but I find Andrea Atzeni's supposed midemeanour an odd one.  It's that old myth of "careless riding".  Whatever Andrea did or didn't do, he didn't ride carelessly.  To say that he did is a gross slur on his professionalism: he's a top-class jockey, was riding in a Group One race for his boss, and you can be totally sure that he was on the ball throughout the race, rather than just going along without paying attention to what was going on around him, as the 'careless riding' charge implies.

The previous day Andrea had ridden a horse for Roger Varian called Battersea who finished second to Curbyourenthusiasm in the Mallard Handicap. Battersea would almost certainly have won if Andrea had got out earlier, but he didn't: he waited for the gaps to come, worked his way round behind horses, and found himself with not enough time to make up the ground.  He would have been annoyed, but wouldn't have been too upset about that happening in a handicap.  The next day, though, in a Group One Classic - well, when he found himself halfway up the straight in the same position, you can be sure that he decided to ensure that he didn't end up losing this race the same way too, so made a calculated decision to create his own gap, feeling more or less safe in the knowledge that his mount would be unlikely to be demoted as a consequence of any interference which he caused.  That wasn't careless -it was a calculated and deliberate manouevre - and to call his riding careless is an unfair insult to a top-class jockey.

What was also an insult was this "Mr. Atzeni", "Mr. O'Donoghue" thing in the stewards' inquiry.  I know that that's how they do these things these days, but seeing an inquiry on TV really rubbed home how silly it is.  This nonsense came about because a steward at York addressed a chippy TV producer by his surname at York one day, and the TV producer made a stink about it.  That's fair enough - even if the TV producer's reaction was completely over the top - but a TV producer is a TV producer, and professional sportsman is a professional sportsman.  And age-old convention is that one uses the surname of a professional sportsman, and appends 'Mr' only if he is an amateur.

To address a professional sportsman as if he were an amateur is not just unflattering, but also incorrect.  And stewards' inquiries ought to be conducted correctly.  In cricket we don't say that the bowler's Mr. Holding, the batsman's Mr. Willey; and in football Rooney passes the ball to Giggs etc. It's just so silly that we (and by 'we' I include the jockeys) have to endure this 'Mr. Atzeni' nonsense.  After a hunter-chase, we should, of course, have Mr. Biddick and Mr. Harding, but that's different because they're amateurs.  I know that this has been done with the best of intentions, and I know that it was done as the result of a well-intentioned campaign by the Racing Post.  But it's not just that it's as silly as it sounds: it is just plain wrong.

I won't go quite as far as to say that it was wrong to permit Gleneagles to gallop on the course after racing at Leopardstown yesterday, but it was very surprising that permission should have been granted.  Gleneagles' non-appearances have been the ongoing sick joke of the second half of this season, and he was, to the surprise of nobody, again scratched yesterday because he supposedly wouldn't like the ground.  But if horses don't like racing on a certain type of ground, they don't like galloping on it either.  We have horses here who don't like racing on ground any faster than good (eg Zarosa, Grand Liaison) and I don't either race them or gallop them on such conditions.

Similarly we have a horse (Magic Ice) who doesn't like racing on ground any softer than good, and she neither races nor gallops on it.  (There is always the Polytrack option for homework when conditions aren't suitable).  Magic Ice feels as uncomfortable galloping on good to soft ground as Zarosa feels galloping on good to firm ground - and that's saying something.  So for a horse to be taken out of a race, particularly a horse as high profile as Gleneagles, on the pretext that he can't handle the ground, and then be granted permission to gallop on the course after racing is bizarre.  He won't, of course, have come to any harm galloping on that ground (after all, he won the Irish 2,000 Guineas on a wet track) but what the decision to allow him to gallop on the ground did was to highlight that he wouldn't have come to any harm by running yesterday.  It's not good for racing when these good horses keep not running, and when we abandon the pretence that it is because the horse can't cope with the conditions, as we did yesterday, then it's just not very good for the sport's image at all.


Tony Byles said...

Agree with your point about Gleaneagles, John. Felt a trifle sorry for Aiden O'Brien; I wonder if the decision not to run him was somewhat out of his hands. Coolmore is a business and I doubt if they have any concerns whether or not they spoilt the race by his withdrawal.

neil kearns said...

two points re gleneagles could not agree more if he wasnt going to run on the ground that should have been the end of it I doubt that if you had withdrawn one at say brighton you would have been allowed to gallop it so why should mr o brien

secondly your comments re the battersea ride of azzini should be analised by al to those who claim it was fine for him to make his way out on simple verse then he is guilty of being a non trier on battersea then he should be suspendedand if you take the opposite view that his ride on simple verse was dangerous then he should be suspended

in both cases the rules for one (or group one) should be the same