Things We Learned » Rules probably right

Rules probably right

There was much debate during the week about the finish of Saturday’s Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, when the winner Al Kazeem hampered Mukhadram inside the final furlong. While the incident probably did not improve Al Kazeem’s position – it is difficult to argue that he wasn’t the best horse in the race by a fair way – it did almost certainly cause Mukhadram to lose second place to Declaration Of War.

Under the rules of racing in Britain as they stand, Al Kazeem was allowed to keep the race and Declaration Of War was allowed to keep second place, while Al Kazeem’s rider James Doyle was suspended for five days for careless riding.

There were arguments during the week for all kinds of alternative remedies to the situation, ranging from the disqualification of Al Kazeem, through the demotion of Declaration Of War, to a re-distribution of prize money that would compensate Mukhadram’s connections for not finishing second. However, none of the alternatives are palatable. (Why should Declaration Of War be penalised, given that he did nothing wrong? How would prize money be re-distributed, and what would be the general – as opposed to the specific – rule in that instance?)

Had the race been run under the rules of racing in France, the winner would probably have been disqualified and placed third, behind the horse with whom he interfered. In that case, the horse who was probably no better than the third best horse in the race on the day would have been awarded the race, while the best horse would have been placed third. That doesn’t seem fair.

While you have to feel for Mukhadram’s connections, and for punters who backed him each-way, the majority of the suggested possible alternative remedies have the potential to create more problems than they solve.

The only possible alternative that would appear to be workable is the zero tolerance method. Break the rules, and you are automatically thrown out. Black and white. It is difficult to explain to those with merely a peripheral interest in racing that the jockey was banned for careless riding, but the horse was allowed to keep the race.

In one sense, either you have broken the rules or you haven’t. In athletics, if you step out of your lane, you are automatically disqualified, regardless of the distance by which you ultimately ‘win’ the race. However, racehorses do not run in lanes, racing lines are not black and white. In that sense, it is correct that there is an area in which stewards can be allowed to use their judgement and common sense in the interest of fairness – as long as they do actually use their judgement and common sense.

Rules probably wrong

Unfortunately, the interests of fairness are often not well served in the stewards’ room, and it is difficult to agree with the BHA’s assertion that they have the best racing rules in the world. Relative to the Eclipse, not many people watched or had any interest in the 2.30 at Ayr on Monday, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF William Hill Maiden, but those who did saw the rules of racing in Britain brought into sharp focus again.

In contrast to the Eclipse, it is difficult to see the fairness in the stewards’ decision to allow Straits Of Malacca keep the race and not award it to Captain Midnight.

On the side-on view, you could see that, as Captain Midnight challenged on the far side of Straits Of Malacca on the approach to the final furlong, Kevin Ryan’s horse moved to his left, and carried Captain Midnight with him. Just inside the furlong pole, Graham Lee switched Captain Midnight inside, lost ground and momentum in so doing, got the horse going again, and got to within a head of the winner by the time they hit the line. Two strides past the line, Captain Midnight was in front.

It looked bad on the side-on view, but it looked even worse from the head-on camera. From the position beyond the winning post, you could clearly see that Straits Of Malacca moved from a position at which he was about one and a half horse-widths off the stands rail to a position at which he was at least five, possibly six horse-widths off the same rail, and that he took Captain Midnight with him.

Sure, the winner lost ground by moving to his left, but that lost ground was his own doing. Captain Midnight was carried to his left by the winner’s meanderings. It is difficult to argue that the interference did not cost him the head by which he was beaten at the very least. And that is without taking into account the loss of momentum through checking back and moving inside. Not only that, but the winner appeared to lean into the runner-up again – this time to his right – in the last few strides of the race.

This was yet another example of the benefit of the doubt resting with the horse who passes the post first. That does not seem fair. We have been here before, but surely, if there is a benefit of the doubt going, it should go to the sufferer of the interference, not to the perpetrator. Strange that Philip Makin was able to keep Straits Of Malacca straight as soon as Captain Midnight switched inside.

The fault is not with Philip Makin. On the contrary, he gave his horse the perfect ride given the rules as they stand. The proof is in the pudding, his horse won the race and kept it, despite the fact that he was probably the second best horse in it. When you win on a horse who was probably not the best horse in the race, you have given the horse a really good ride.

The fault is with the rules and precedents and stewards’ interpretations. The rules as they stand encourage a win-at-all-costs mentality among riders, get your horse across the line in front and take your chances in the stewards’ room. That simply doesn’t make sense.


Emotion has no place in betting. Just because you have a soft spot for a horse, it doesn’t mean that you should back him the next time he runs. ‘He owes me nothing.’ Indeed. Soft spots are weak spots.

Every race is an individual puzzle. You start again. Take the pieces of evidence that you have, and put them together to try to come up with your interpretation of the picture of the race. Then compare your interpretation with the odds that the market is offering, and play the discrepancies.

That said, just because you have a soft spot for a horse, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t over-priced. (Just because you are not paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they are not all talking about you.) It just means that you have to think carefully about it. Take Sole Power in the July Cup today. Okay, so the Eddie Lynam-trained gelding is stepping up to six furlongs for the first time since he got out of short trousers, and he is a five-furlong specialist (ref. Nunthorpe Stakes, King’s Stand Stakes, Temple Stakes, Palace House Stakes.)

But he is 18 months older now than he was the last time he raced over six, he is settling better in his races now than he was then. As well as that, the July Course at Newmarket is a speed course, the standard time for six furlongs there is three seconds faster than it is at Ascot. Put that with the fact that he should have the lightning fast ground that he loves and, with Hamza and Lethal Force in the line up, the fast pace that he craves, and he is no 10/1 shot.

Fiesolana on fire

In completing her hat-trick in the Group 3 Brownstown Stakes at Fairyhouse last Wednesday, Fiesolana also put up the best performance of her career. And signs are that she is not finished yet.

Willie McCreery’s filly travelled best of all into the home straight, and she quickly put daylight between herself and her field when Billy Lee asked her to pick up. She was pricking her ears in front, and Along Came Casey got to within a head of her, but she was surely idling, she almost certainly won with plenty in hand, and she would probably have won even more easily if her challenge had been delayed a little later.

Along Came Casey is a talented filly, she was impressive in winning a listed race at Leopardstown on her previous run, and the pair of them finished clear in a good time, the fastest time of the evening and 1.5secs faster than the fastest of the three other races run over seven furlongs on the evening. She remains progressive, this was just her fourth run for McCreery since she arrived from Jean-Claude Rouget, and just the 12th of her life, and there could still be a fair bit more to come.

She is so versatile that it is difficult to pinpoint her optimum conditions. She has now won on fast and easy ground, and over six furlongs, seven furlongs and a mile. She has bags of pace, but she saw out a mile well when she got home by a half a length in a handicap at The Curragh on Guineas weekend in a race that is working out well. She is in a Group 2 race over nine furlongs at The Curragh on Irish Oaks weekend and, with plenty of stamina in her pedigree, she will be of interest if she takes her chance in that. She deserves to step up in grade again, and we may not have got to the bottom of her yet.

Record on

Paddy Power’s offer of 6/1 that the July Cup winner will break the track record today is interesting.

Conditions make it possible. There should be a fast pace on (see above) and, as long as they didn’t over-water last night, the ground should be on fire. Also, the quality of the race is top notch. We have the Diamond Jubilee first, second and third, and the King’s Stand Stakes first and second in the race, as well as progressive Jersey Stakes and Sapphire Stakes winners.

These are fast horses. When Shea Shea and Sole Power finished first and fourth in the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan in March, both of them broke the track record.

As well as that, it isn’t as though the record for the July Cup course has stood for generations. The record is Stravinsky’s, set in 1999. In setting it, Aidan O’Brien’s horse went just 0.21secs faster than Elnadim had the previous year. Moreover, in the 13 renewals since, four horses have got to within half a second of Stravinsky’s time. Oasis Dream was 0.43secs slower, Mozart was 0.34secs slower, Starspangledbanner was 0.3secs slower and Fleeting Spirit was just 0.07secs slower.

It is possible that the record will go, probably more possible than odds of 6/1 suggest.

© The Irish Field, 13th July 2013