Sunday, March 13, 2016

Logic somewhere in the fog

Two days (or sleeps, if one is an infant) to go.  And, unbelievably, declarations for only two races at Cheltenham have been taken, ie the Champion Hurdle and the mares' hurdle.  Having 48-hour declarations is so much better than the 24-hour system and, while I am aware that jumps racing has not yet moved over to the 48-hour system, aren't all Grade One races meant to have 48-hour declarations?  And, more to the point, shouldn't all Grade One races have 48-hour declarations?  So where are the declarations for the Arkle and the Supreme?  Aren't we trying to encourage advance interest in these races?  And it's not even as if there could be any opposition to the 48-hour system when one is racing at this level: while planning for lower-tier races might be more ad hoc, if you're training a horse for a Grade One race, your plans have been made weeks in advance.  It's not a last-minute decision just to give it a go.

Declarations for the big race of the Festival, of course, won't be taken until either Wednesday or Thursday, when the Foxhunters field is assembled.  I'm so pleased that Victoria Pendleton will be riding in it.  She's a breath of fresh air, inspirational both for the passion of her Corinthian spirit and for her professionalism.  (And I know that that sentence might seem self-contradictory, but it isn't).  I couldn't understand this 'She shouldn't be riding because she isn't very experienced and she might have a fall' agonising.  That's racing: plenty of riders will have falls during the Festival, and that's nobody's business but their own.  They're adults, not children.

And look at it another way: if today you were offered even money Victoria Pendleton to have a fall at Cheltenham or even money Ruby Walsh to have a fall at Cheltenham, which one would you take?  I'd definitely take the Ruby Walsh bet. Even money Victoria Pendleton to have a fall is probably about right, maybe slightly under the odds; but Ruby has to be about 1/4 to have at least one fall.  He'll probably have 20 rides, and surely nobody could think that the likelihood is that they'll all get round.  But nobody is his right mind would say that Ruby shouldn't be allowed to take all those rides because he's likely to have a fall.  Just nonsense.

To move, though, to the real action, ie that which takes place in the stewards' rooms.  We've had two $1.05 winners in the past few days (ie that Luke Morris would have his Lingfield ban overturned, and that Jim Best would be found guilty).  The only two points left hanging are (1) how on earth could Luke have been given the ban in the first place, and (2) Best's punishment.  The panellists on the Sunday Forum were agonising over the likely length of his inevitable disqualification (or, rather, were agonising around the likely length of his disqualification, their coyness meaning that they wouldn't give an opinion) but, really, it's academic: when his disqualification ends, it's hard to see him convincing the licensing panel that he would be a fit and proper person to hold a trainer's license, so it will effectively be a lifetime ban from training, however long or short the term of his disqualification.

To move on to a different aspect of law-enforcement, namely the whip rules.  While the situation persists that a jockey can win a race by breaking the rules without risk of demotion, it will remain likely that there will be narrow winners in big races who owe their victory to their jockeys breaking the rules - which is very hard to swallow if the jockey on the runner-up keeps within the rules.  We're likely to get a similar situation in one of the big races at Cheltenham, which, if it happens, will leave a sour taste in the mouth.  And, even if it doesn't, victory for Cue Card in the Gold Cup would see a million-pound bonus being 'earned' by breaking the rules (if one believes, as I do, that he would not have won the King George had Paddy Brennan not thrown caution to the wind in the closing stages).

Anyway, common sense says that these unsatisfactory instances should not be allowed to happen (for the sake of the blameless connections of the unfortunate runners-up, even if for no other reason).  And we might have moved a step forward in that respect yesterday.  In race four at the Sunshine Coast, Stonecast and Rosella dead-heated, ridden by Sarah Eilbeck and Taylor Williams respectively.  As Taylor Williams had breached the guidelines and Sarah Eilbeck hadn't, the latter and Stonecast's trainer Gary Duncan protested.  The stewards decided that, while Eilbeck had ridden within the rules, Williams had not; and that the additional strikes from the latter had had a material effect on the result.

The consequence was that Rosella was demoted to second, Stonecast being given as the outright winner.  Obviously, the narrower the margin, the easier it is to decide that the result has been affected.  And the narrowest margin of all is a dead-heat.  This, then, was a relatively easy case in which to take action.  Still, though, I think that the action taken was clearly correct.  That's the first time that a breach of the whip rules has seen an alteration to the result in Australia, and it could possibly the first time that it's happened anywhere in the world.  You'd like, simply from the point of view of fairness and natural justice, to think that it won't be the last.  Food for thought.

We had two trips to Chelmsford in the week.  Both were pleasant.  On Thursday, Blue Sea Of Ibrox (penultimate photograph, pre-race with Dan Muscutt) ran a good last (if one is allowed to say such a thing) by finishing fifth of the five in-form horses in her race, beaten two lengths despite being short of room in the closing stages.  It was an unproductive trip, but I don't regret having run her.  It has kept her ticking over before she goes back on the turf when the season starts, and it has confirmed that she remains in very good heart.  Similarly sixth of 10 for Cherry Street (final photograph, pre-race with Kevin Stott) there the following day was unproductive, but not a disaster.  He'll be OK.  We'll have one entry this week: Indira (the tips of whose ears are visible in the fourth photograph, taken this morning) at Wolverhampton on Saturday.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

going back to a few postsago wonder if all the merchants of doom that was spectacular sport this afternoon regardless of the facr wehad short price favourites owned by the big battalions the sight of top horses at the peak of their powers makes for a superb spectator sport