In the latest incident, two days ago, Willie Mullins pulled out Devils Bride from the first race at Fairyhouse. He claimed that a change in the going from yielding to soft, soft in places when declarations were made on Tuesday to soft, yielding to soft in places on raceday meant the revised conditions were unsuitable for his horse.
The stewards took a different view, saying that the change was not significant enough to trigger the withdrawal. They were also perhaps mindful that Devils Bride had an alternative engagement at Thurles yesterday, and ensured he would not take that up by suspending the horse for two days. Trainer Willie Mullins picked up a €200 fine.
The Turf Club, however, was insistent that there was nothing out of the ordinary in what happened this week. Chief executive Denis Egan explained, “What happened on Wednesday was a standard 'non-runner and reason not accepted' (case). There is absolutely nothing in it. We get those day in, day out. If a horse is a non-runner and the stewards do not accept the excuse, the horse gets suspended for two days.”
The issue of Gigginstown non-runners goes back over the last couple of seasons, and figures in the Racing Post today show that 10.4% of their race entries do not take up their engagements. Since 1 January 2012 they have had 123 non-runners out of 1,177 entries. For the two other major owners, the non-runners are 6.6% (JP McManus) and 4.8% (Jackie Bolger).
Egan is looking into another incident earlier this month, which the stewards at Cork referred to him. Noel Meade, who trains Road To Riches for Gigginstown, pulled the horse out of a race there because it was lame. Fair enough, that’s something everyone would accept. Then Mouse Morris asked for jockey Davy Russell to be allowed to switch to his Gigginstown runner, Rogue Angel. Although the stewards allowed the change, they were “not entirely satisfied with the situation” and referred it on.
Egan was non-committal in how that enquiry was going on, merely saying, “We are just trying to ascertain if there any issues that need to be addressed as the result of the withdrawal in Cork. It is ongoing at the moment and is likely to be concluded pretty soon, maybe in a week or two.”
Previously concerns have arisen in races where Gigginstown has had two possible runners. Twice in the last month, Keith Donoghue has found himself jocked off winning horses when a second horse has come out of a race. Not surprisingly, he’s a bit frustrated at this, not simply because of the money he hasn’t picked up, but also because riding big race winners will further enhanced his status as one of Ireland’s up coming jockeys.
For punters, these withdrawals are irritating. Those who have backed the withdrawn horse generally get their money back, but for those on the other Gigginstown horse (or anything else for that matter) there are either contractions in price or deductions that can play havoc with value in betting.
I don’t for one minute think that there is any subterfuge in what is going on, and fully recognise that late withdrawals are part and parcel of racing. But at the same time, it clearly happens much more often with runners from this team, and you can’t help but wonder whether their campaign planning, particularly with horses in different yards, couldn’t be a bit better co-ordinated.