Things We Learned » Rules not right

Rules not right

If you have read this column before, you have probably read a version of what follows before, possibly on more than one occasion, so apologies.  But in the light of the finish of the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York on Wednesday, it is worthwhile reading it again.

The rules of racing in Britain, and the interpretation thereof, are flawed.  They encourage a win-at-all-costs mentality which fosters riding that often goes beyond careless and sometimes borders on dangerous.

The number of win-at-all-costs rides in finishes is growing, as more jockeys come to realise that, if they get to the winning post first, as long as they ‘win’ by more than a short head, they are 1.01 to keep the race, regardless of the means that they employed in order to get there.

The latest example was in the Great Voltigeur Stakes.  Storm The Stars may have been the best horse in the race, he may have won anyway, but Pat Cosgrave took no chances.  He kept his whip in his right hand, kept his reins in his left, and did nothing to try to correct his horse’s drift, despite the fact that the drift took him into his main rival Bondi Beach and Joseph O’Brien.  Not only did he bump him, but he carried him from the centre of the track to the far side inside the final 200 yards.

The stewards seem to view these things arbitrarily: because the winning distance was a half a length, not a nose or a short head, the result was allowed to stand.  But how can you tell how much energy or momentum Bondi Beach lost?

You can’t blame Pat Cosgrave, he knows the rules, he played to them, he won the race, got the prize money, got a Group 2 win on Storm The Stars’ cv.  So what if he also got a three-day ban?  It’s a small price to pay.  Even his share of the prize money was almost 10 grand.

People say, he probably would have won anyway, and move on.  They shouldn’t.  The rules give the benefit of the doubt to the perpetrator of the offence, when actually the benefit of doubt should go to the victim.  As things stand, the burden of proof rests on the horse who suffered the interference.  The winner has nine-10ths of the law on his side.  It should be the other way around.  The burden of proof should be on the horse who caused the interference, the horse who passed the post first.

That simple change would dramatically change a rider’s mentality and methodology.  Put the burden of proof on the perpetrator, which is actually the just and right thing to do anyway.  You cause interference, you have to prove that you would almost certainly have won anyway if there hadn’t been any interference.  If you can’t, if there is a reasonable doubt, then you are thrown out.  See how many jockeys would switch their whips then.

Secret Gesture decision was harsh

Then you have the other extreme, the disqualification of Secret Gesture after she had passed the post first in the Beverly D Stakes at Arlington Park on Saturday evening.  It’s frustrating, it gives credence to the notion that there is no correct way of administering the rules.  The best filly in the race was disqualified and placed third, while the winner was probably the third best filly at best.

The American rules go to the other extreme.  Similar to the French rules, they operate the zero tolerance method.  You cause interference, you are thrown out.

Strangely, however, if you applied the common sense rule, if you placed the burden of proof – beyond reasonable doubt – on the perpetrator, you would get a much more satisfactory result.  Jamie Spencer acted quickly and decisively when his filly started to drift.  Was Secret Gesture the best filly in the race?  Probably.  Would she have won anyway, if she hadn’t drifted towards Stephanie’s Kitten?  Almost certainly.  Maybe common sense will prevail in the appeal.

You could also ask why Irad Ortiz snatched up as dramatically as he did, and how surprised he was when his filly’s stable companion came past him on the far side, thereby scuppering any chance he had of getting the race – I mean, what’s the chances? – but that would be to stray outside the scope of the investigation.

Actually, maybe Jamie Spencer asked him yesterday, informally, as they togged out together before the Nunthorpe Stakes.

The Classic generation and the Ebor

So just one three-year-old in the Ebor, Fields Of Athenry, who races off a mark of 118.  The 12lb allowance that the Classic generation receive over a mile and six furlongs at this time of year means that a three-year-old would need to have had a rating of at least 111 to get a run in today’s race.

In one sense, you can empathise with those who bemoan the fact that we don’t have the three-year-old progressive contenders any more.  In another, however, the Ebor is a more competitive race as a result.  Give The Slip won it for the Classic generation in 2000 and Mediterranean won it for them the following year.  No three-year-old has won it since, but only nine have run in the race, and six of them have been placed.  If you allotted places in the Ebor on handicap ratings rather than on weight carried, you would run the risk of making it a race for three-year-olds, and we have plenty of them already as things stand.

Intisari looks good

Intisari looked good in winning the 10-and-a-half-furlong handicap at Dundalk on Sunday.  Ger Lyons’ horse travelled well the whole way behind a fast pace, travelled well into the home straight and cleared away really impressively to record an easy victory in a decent time.

This was just the Intikhab gelding’s third run ever, he didn’t race as a juvenile and he won a 10-furlong maiden at Navan in July on just his second start.  This was a significant step forward to win this handicap against experienced rivals off a mark of 86.

The handicapper has raised him 15lb to a mark of 101, but he is a lightly-raced horse with enough potential for progression to allow him cope with a hike of that magnitude. Interestingly, Lyons said afterwards that he was at least as good as Saxo Jack, with whom he won this race two years ago, and Saxo Jack was unlucky not to win a big handicap at Newbury on his next run off a mark of 97.

Grand (National) Slam

Delayed thoughts on the Australian Grand National.  (I know, it wasn’t last week.  I’ve been away.)

  1. Ruby made the difference.  If Bashboy had sauntered home by 25 lengths and the same, you could have legitimately argued that your grandmother would have won on him, but he didn’t.  He got home by a half a length in a driving finish.  Ruby made the difference in the finish, and he probably made the difference out in the country as well.  It is impossible to quantify these things, you just know that it is so.  It was an ingenious plan hatched by Ciaron Maher to get Walsh over for the ride, and whatever the owners paid for the airfare, business class or first class or in the cockpit, your own bed and 57 channels and a Pina Colada before take off, it was worth it.
  2. It will be a long time before one jockey again wins the Aintree Grand National, the Irish Grand National, the Welsh Grand National, the Scottish Grand National, the Nakayama Grand Jump and the Australian Grand National.  It’s jump racing’s Grand (National) Slam.
  3. If they can use starting stalls for the Australian Grand National, and they can use starting stalls for the Nakayama Grand Jump, why can’t they consider using starting stalls for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Galway Plate?
  4. “Oh deary, deary me, he is the best, Ruby, Bashboy, the whole box of knives.”  (It was ‘box of knives’ he said, right?)  Fantastic.

© The Irish Field, 22nd August 2015