When the initial result of the St.Leger at Doncaster was reversed following a Stewards’ Inquiry, there was shock in the racing ranks. Isn’t that the sort of thing that happens in France? We don’t expect our stewards to alter the outcome of a race. It’s just not British!
As it turns out, the reversal was reversed on appeal and the original winning horse, Simple Verse, kept the race. Was that in itself a criticism of the stewards at Doncaster who had to come to a fairly speedy decision? Some thought the presence of Channel 4 cameras in the inquiry room put pressure on the stewards. After all, hadn’t the viewers watched the jockey of the runner up wipe the floor with the jockey of the winner when it came to voicing their respective arguments before the stewards?
Who bumped who first? Who bumped who the worst? Who would have won the race had the two horses not bounced off each other more than once?
The truth is, who knows? I don’t. You don’t. The stewards didn’t. We can all have our opinion, but we cannot know for sure whether Simple Verse or Bondi Beach would have come past the post first had the horses not impersonated bumper cars.
And thereby is the core problem with a Stewards’ Inquiry. We are asking fellow human beings to guess. They may see horse racing more often than they see their grandchildren, but they’re still guessing what would have happened next.
I agree with the opinion of The Guardian racing correspondent Chris Cook (above).
He wrote: “It is not wise to force racing’s stewards to adopt a pundit’s role, yet this is exactly what the current rules on interference require. Unless the jockey at fault is found guilty of dangerous riding, which has not happened for years, his mount is to be disqualified only if the stewards are (to quote the rules) ‘satisfied that the interference improved the placing of the horse in relation to the horse with which it interfered.’ How can they know?”
Chris Cook continues: “Why is everyone involved coming up with a different decision? Partly because this is a finely balanced case but also because they are all guessing.
“Surely the common-sense approach would be to make stewards focus on the gravity of the interference when deciding whether to disqualify. That would remove all question of which was the best horse, which officials ar not well qualified to answer.
“For safety’s sake, let them look at what has actually happened instead of conjecturing as to what might have been and let them be harder on those who appear to have deliberately shunted a rival to obtain a clear run.
“Few in racing want disqualifications to be triggered as easily as in France or the United States but we have strayed too far in the opposite direction.”
I concur. Although Bondi Beach carried my money (a bet which paid out), I felt Simple Verse was the best horse on the day. But in his evidence heard during the appeal hearing in London, the winning jockey Andrea Atzeni admitted he forced his way out by bumping into Bondi Beach. He knew he would pick up a short ban for doing so, but winning the race was of far greater importance. The prize for coming first was far greater than the punishment for deliberately interfering with an opponent.
Cook has it right. There’s no point trying to predict which horse would have won a race had their not been a collision, but the actions of a jockey in such a race should lead to the horse being disqualified if he clearly sought to gain an advantage by bullying a competing horse out of the way.
That’s not what will happen, of course. What will happen is that Stewards at a racecourse will be all the more reluctant to reverse the result of a race following the events at the headquarters of the British Horseracing Authority last month.
What’s in no doubt is that, when it came to the St. Leger, the best barrister won the race.