Things We Learned » Stewards’ decisions

Stewards’ decisions

The decisions by the Longchamp stewards to disqualify Cirrus Des Aigles from first place in the Prix Dollar on Saturday, and Gleneagles from first place in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on Sunday, seem to have divided opinion north of Cherbourg.

There are a couple of things here. Firstly and primarily, it is a pity that there is not homogeneity of rules regarding interference across all racing jurisdictions, just as it is a pity that there is not homogeneity of rules regarding permissible drugs and use of whips across racing jurisdictions. Secondly, this is not easy.

There is something unsatisfactory about the best horse in the race under the conditions on the day going home without the prize. It does happen, obviously, under other circumstances too. A horse gets boxed in, or makes a mistake at the second last fence from which he cannot recover, or goes off too fast in front, and loses. Unsatisfactory, but also unavoidable.

Of course, you can easily argue that if a horse has won a race through unfair means, if he has broken the rules, then he should be thrown out, regardless of whether or not he was or is the best horse in the race. If you step out of your lane in a 400-metre race, even if you win by half the length of the home straight, you are still disqualified. Actually, if you step out of your lane in a 100-metre race, run in a straight line, you are also thrown out.

Fine, but if you are going to apply that logic, shouldn’t you have to apply it to other rules as well? If a horse wins after the jockey has hit it nine times with the whip when the rules say seven, hasn’t he won through unfair means?

Unlike the 400-metre runner, horses do not run in lanes, and the major positive element of the French rules is certainty, or near-certainty. After the Prix Dollar, there was universal agreement among just about everyone who has watched French racing in the past – including the horse’s trainer Corine Barande-Barbe – that Cirrus Des Aigles was in trouble. After the Jean-Luc Lagardere, owner Michael Tabor seemed resigned to the fact that Gleneagles was going to be thrown out even before the decision to amend the result was announced. If the exchanges had been open for betting after the races, the two horses who had passed the post first would both have been long odds-against.

Interestingly, in Britain there is near-certainty too. You are nearly certain that, unless you put your rival over the rail and get home by an ever-diminishing nose, you are going to keep the race. The balance of probability goes with the horse who passed the post first, and that is plainly not right. It is unjust. It encourages a win-at-all-costs mentality among riders which borders on dangerous. You often see leaders moving across to cross or block or intimidate a closing rival. “It wouldn’t have affected the result anyway” is the common cry.

And it is the top riders who are the most prolific perpetrators of said action. That is why they are top riders. They know the rules and they ride to the edge of them. Often the solution is to ban the rider but allow the horse keep the race. Punish the rider but not the connections or the horse. That does not sit squarely. There is something incongruous about a rider getting banned for careless riding and the horse keeping the race. (See also whip rules above.)

We may not be that far away from the correct system in Ireland. Of course, there have been some difficult decisions in recent times but, in general, stewards in Ireland appear to apply a common sense approach. Common sense is a grey area. It lacks certainty, and that is not ideal. But it does represent an effort to apply reason and fairness to a difficult issue.

In applying common sense, however, the most important aspect is this: that the balance of probability goes with the horse who suffered the interference, not with the horse who passed the post first. The burden of proof should always be on the perpetrator, not the victim. The sufferer should get the race if there is at least a reasonable chance that he would have won had the interference not taken place. That is reasonable. That is just.

Terrific Treve

Treve was superb. Generally unexpectedly so. There were a few people who predicted that she could win, among them her trainer Criquette Head-Maarek, but very few who predicted that she could win as easily as she did.

Going into the race, this year’s Treve and last year’s Treve were two completely different propositions. Last year’s Treve went into the Arc on the crest of a momentum wave, unbeaten in four runs. Three wins that year, including in the Group 1 Prix de Diane and in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille. Also, the easy ground was in her favour, and she was a three-year-old filly getting all the allowances, 3lb from the colts, 8lb from the older fillies, 11lb from the older colts. The only negative was her outside draw, which she ultimately overcame quite comprehensively.

This year, different story. She had raced three times this season before Sunday and she had been beaten each time. Second in the Prix Ganay, third in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, fourth in the Prix Vermeille. Her Timeform rating for each run was regressing: from a lofty 134 for her run in last year’s Arc, to 128 for the Prix Ganay, to 120 for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, to 118 for the Vermeille.

As well as that, she was a four-year-old in this year’s Arc, she was conceding 8lb to the three-year-old fillies and 5lb to the three-year-old colts. And the ground was shaping up to be faster than ideal. The only thing that Treve fans could cling to was her inside draw and the fact that her trainer maintained that she had Sheikh Joaan’s filly back as well as ever.

Turns out, world-class trainer that Criquette Head-Maarek is, she did. The trainer said after the race that Treve had nothing left to prove, and it is difficult to argue with that assertion. The first dual Arc winner since Alleged, Treve’s place in history is secure.

Japanese woe

In contrast to Treve, the Japanese Arc challenge promised much, but fell a long way short.

Harp Star, Just A Way and Gold Ship were sent off at combined odds of just under 9/4, and the best they could muster was Harp Star’s sixth-place finish.

Visiting jockeys are always easy targets, that is the case the world over, and it is easy to say now that the rides that Yuga Kawada and Norihiro Yokoyama gave Harp Star and Gold Ship respectively were less than optimal, but it is unlikely that the riders were acting unilaterally.

You can be sure that the plan was decided by the collective, and that the plan was merely implemented by the riders. You can be certain that the exaggerated waiting tactics and the wide runs in the home straight were pre-conceived plans.

In defence of the plans, that is how both horses are ridden in Japan. If you watch Harp Star’s run in the Guineas, you can’t believe that she will get up to win from her position at the top of the home straight. Same in the Oaks, you can’t believe that she will get as close as she does. And in the Sapporo Kinen, the ease with which both horses move through the pack, wide around the home turn, is astonishing for a competitive big-field Group 2 contest.

However, racing styles in different jurisdictions vary widely. The ground is invariably fast in Japan and the early pace is invariably fast. Perhaps this is why exaggerated waiting tactics and wide runs – in which you give away the ground in order to ensure a clear unimpeded run – work as well as they do for Harp Star in particular.

In Sunday’s Arc, the early pace was solid but not frenetic, and the ground that the Japanese horses conceded so easily at the start was always going to be difficult to reclaim. Harp Star in particular did really well to finish as close as she did, given how far back she was and how wide she raced in the home straight. She remains a top class filly.

Other things that Team Japan might consider when they review Operation Arc 2014. (And you can be certain that they will, in meticulous detail, and that they will be back hungrier than ever). None of the three Japanese runners had a prep run in Europe. That may have been an error. Next year, they should probably consider coming over earlier and running in one of the trials at Longchamp on Arc Trials day, as Orfevre did, or coming over to Ireland to run in the Irish Champion Stakes.

Also, Longchamp is a track that reportedly takes a lot of knowing. It is difficult for a Japanese rider with little or no experience of the track to get tactics spot on in the hurly-burly of an Arc. Of course, when Japan do win the Arc – and they will – it will be a source of national pride if they have a Japanese rider on board, but it may not be a coincidence that the closest they have come to winning it to date was in 2012 with Orfevre, with Christophe Soumillon on board.

Moyglare form

The form of this year’s Moyglare Stud Stakes just continues to get stronger and stronger.

Before last weekend, Moyglare runner-up Lucida had gone on to win the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket, while Moyglare sixth Qualify had come out and won the Group 3 CL & MF Weld Park Stakes at The Curragh.

Last Saturday, Moyglare fifth Osaila won the valuable Tattersalls Millions Fillies’ Trophy at Newmarket, while on Sunday, Moyglare third Found won the Group 1 Prix Parcel Boussac at Longchamp, a race in which Moyglare fourth Malabar was again a running-on fourth. They are the only five horses from the Moyglare who have run again since.

Obviously, the return of Moyglare winner Cursory Glance is eagerly awaited, and it will be interesting to see next year how many Classic winners this year’s Moyglare Stud Stakes produces.

Quiz time

Quiz time again. Name this horse … Has won 22 of his 43 races, including an Irish Champion Hurdle, an Arkle and a Champion Chase, should have won a Champion Hurdle, could have won another Champion Chase, has now won the Grade 2 PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park four times and is still going strong at nearly 13. Gottit?

Now this one … Has won 18 of his 28 races and has finished second in seven of the 10 that he has lost. Has now won two flat races, two bumpers, eight hurdle races and six chases. Numbered among his wins are a Galway Hurdle, a Powers Gold Cup and now a Grade 2 Istabraq Hurdle at Tipperary. Gottit?

Now, how would you feel if the pair of them should meet? (It could happen soon you know.)

© The Irish Field, 11th October 2014