Donn's Articles » Whip bans and stewards’ inquiries

Whip bans and stewards’ inquiries

Whip bans were being dished out like glasses of Pimms last week. Jamie Spencer got one for his ride on Fame And Glory in the Gold Cup, Kevin Manning got one for Banimpire in the Ribblesdale, Wayne Lordan got one for Lolly For Dolly in the Windsor Forest, Frankie Dettori got one for his ride on Rewilding in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. Stings in the tale, we call them, and we move on.

It is not a coincidence that there are more whip bans at the bigger meetings than at the smaller ones. Winning matters more at the bigger meetings. The upside of victory is greater than the downside of suspension. But when the reward for a misdemeanour is greater than the punishment, surely you have to look at the severity of the punishment.

All of the above rides were winning rides. Banimpire won by a short head, Rewilding won by a neck. Did the ‘excessive use’ by Kevin Manning and Frankie Dettori respectively make the difference of that short head or that neck? And if it did, is it correct that Richard Hughes and Ryan Moore, riders of the respective runners-up, should be penalised for remaining within the guidelines?

The whip debate has been re-energised since this year’s Grand National. Reactions have been emotive. The authorities seem to be intent on pandering to perception, appeasing the peripheral viewer and introducing more stringent whip guidelines to apparently make racing easier on the casual eye. The merits and de-merits of that stance have been extensively debated, but if that is the case, then the big meetings are paramount, because it is the big meetings that attract the lion’s share of the casual eyes. But as things stand, it is at the big meetings that the incentive for riders to remain within the guidelines is at its lowest, and surely that can’t be right.

Guidelines on stewards’ inquiries were also brought into sharp focus last week. In The Monday Jury in yesterday’s paper, it was mildly surprising the Eddie Ahern’s winning ride on Julienas in the Royal Hunt Cup did not get a mention under Most Impressive Riding Performance of the Week.

Ahern excelled on Walter Swinburn’s gelding. He got his horse nicely settled just behind the front rank, moved over two and a half furlongs out into a gap that had developed between Bronze Prince and the rail, and kicked for home. Julienas himself drifted off the rail, leaving a gap, but when Ryan Moore and Dance And Dance threatened to move up into that gap, Julienas moved back towards the rail. Moore had to switch his horse out around Julienas, and he just couldn’t get past before the winning line arrived.

The winning rider said afterwards that his horse drifted back towards the rail, but watching the head-on, riding with his stick in his right hand, it is easy to conclude that, at the very least, he wasn’t averse to the idea. Once Moore had switched, Ahern switched his whip to his left hand so that his horse could go toe-to-toe with Moore’s, and Julienas got home by a half a length.

It was an excellent ride from Ahern. As the rules stand, it was highly unlikely that he would lose the race, it would have taken a mammoth effort from the stewards to throw him out. Ahern knew that, and he rode accordingly.

But if Dance And Dance had got through on the stands rail, if Julienas had not moved over and closed the gap, would he have won? Who knows. As is almost always the case in these instances, it is impossible to tell with certainty. It is true that Julienas ran all the way to the line, and that he appeared to find a little more when Dance And Dance got close. However, before he was checked, the runner-up had the momentum that comes with being delivered last. He was travelling faster than Julienas, he was gaining ground, and he would have had the rail to help him. He may not have won, but he may have. If you had to put a probability figure on it, you would probably say close to 0.5, 50-50.

As the rules stand, the benefit of doubt is given to the horse that passes the post first, possession being nine-tenths of the law and all. Unless it is apparent that the runner-up would almost certainly have won without the interference, the horse that has finished first keeps the race.

There is something inherently wrong with that line of thinking. It encourages jockeys to sail close to the wind, and the fact that Ahern got a two-day ban for careless riding tells you that he did, if not right into it. You don’t want a situation like the one the exists in France, the one that saw, for example, Liliside disqualified and placed sixth after passing the post first in last year’s French 1,000 Guineas (although there are signs that common sense seems to be infiltrating the Gallic stewards’ rooms of late). But surely the benefit of doubt should rest with the victim of the interference, not with the perpetrator.

Ahern’s ride was the right ride under the rules. It just may be that they are not the right rules.

© The Racing Post, 21st June 2011