Donn's Articles » Jason Maguire suspension

Jason Maguire suspension

There has been plenty said and written already about the suspension imposed on Jason Maguire following his ride on Cool Mission in the three-mile beginners’ chase at Doncaster last Wednesday. You know the story by now: the rider was suspended for five days for marking the horse, and for another two for excessive use of the whip. Seven days for one misdemeanour. Crucially, the seventh day of his suspension is the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, which means that, as things stand, Maguire is set to miss the ride on Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle.

Of course, the entire episode would have generated just a fraction of the interest that it has actually generated were it not for that very fact. Races are run and jockeys get banned, it happens, and when they do, the incident generally gets little more than a couple of lines at the bottom of the report on the day’s racing. This is different. This is the Cheltenham Festival, one of the favourites for the Champion Hurdle, it doesn’t get much more high-profile.

Jason Maguire has been building up to this all year. If you had asked him on the day after the 2010 Cheltenham Festival what he was most looking forward to this season, he would probably have said Peddlers Cross, Champion Hurdle. It is like being told on the day you get your Christmas holidays that Santa Claus isn’t coming this year.

In all walks of regulatory life, it is important that the punishment fits the crime. To take away a man’s right to make a living for seven days is harsh in the extreme. We often hear about jockeys being suspended and we hardly give it a second thought, but think about it now for a second. What would a Garda have to do to be suspended without pay for seven days? What would an accountant have to do? A receptionist? A Chief Executive? Then on top of that, take away his dream.

Significantly, Cool Mission continually responded to the rider’s urgings. The horse raced willingly all the way up the home straight and had a chance of winning the race right up until the very last strides. When Maguire realised inside the final 50 yards that he wasn’t going to be able to catch Richard Johnson on Beshabar, he put his whip down.

Different scenario, but compare the finish of this race to the finish of the Eider Chase at Newcastle on Saturday, when the first three horses home, the only three horses home, clambered over the final fence and staggered up the run-in at Dublin City Marathon intervals. At Doncaster, both Beshabar and Cool Mission ran willingly all the way to the line, both horses and both riders giving their all. Which of the two races sailed closest to the welfare line? Which was the less aesthetically pleasing?

Also, while Maguire appeared to use his whip liberally in the home straight, half the strikes were with his whip in the backhand position. He hit his horse eight times with his backhand before the approach to the final fence, and eight times in the forehand position thereafter, six times on the run-in, making it a total of 16. Richard Johnson hit Beshabar 15 times, seven times on the run-in. Johnson was suspended as well, but only for one day, and that is significant. If Maguire had been suspended for one day instead of two for excessive use, his suspension would have ended on the Monday before Cheltenham and everybody would have heaved a sigh of relief. Is one extra strike worth one extra day and a Champion Hurdle?

The five-day ban for marking Cool Mission is also worth thinking about. Horses differ. Some are more thin-skinned than others. Generally if riders are aware that a horse marks easily, they tread warily, but Cool Mission had never marked before. Maguire had ridden him in seven of his previous nine races for Donald McCain, including in several close finishes, he obviously knows the horse well, and he had no reason to think that there was any reason to tread warily. The fact that the stewards found that the horse suffered just minor weals is irrelevant.

In one sense, Maguire is a victim of his own enthusiasm. Jockeys are well aware of the timing of bans, they know that now is the time to be careful with Cheltenham looming on the horizon. Now is the time to count your strokes and to give up that half-gap on the rail. Maguire was blinded by his will to win. Ruby Walsh is talking about delaying his return to race-riding by a couple of days until Saturday, when he can be sure that, if he is unlucky enough to come to the attention of the stewards, any suspensions would begin after the curtain has come down on the Cheltenham Festival. You can’t blame him.

Jason Maguire’s appeal will be heard on Thursday. Hopefully common sense will prevail.

© The Racing Post, 1st March 2011