It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic weekend of Flat racing action.
At Longchamp on Sunday both Treve and New Bay put in devastating performances in their relative Arc trials. Head-Maarek’s superstar was simply scintillating, and a thrilled trainer said: “I really don't know what to say, but I would like to thank my team, who have done such an amazing job with her. Today she was exceptional. I have her back where she was at three, with the same will to win. This is her playground.”
Andre Fabre’s exciting colt also impressed when scorching to victory in the Prix Niel. Many had thought the trip would stretch his stamina, but he destroyed the opposition and appeared full of running at the finishing post.
Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to the owner Khalid Abdullah, said: “Andre didn't think there was an issue about stamina - when you look at his breeding there was some doubt, but it is actually a very good staying family when you go back. It was a really solid performance, he's learning all the time and apart from having a terrible draw in the (French) Guineas he has enjoyed a good season. Treve sets the benchmark, but we will see just how good our horse is in three weeks' time.”
In Ireland Aidan O’Brien sent out the first three-year-old winner of the St Leger since Vinnie Roe in 2001. Order Of St George ran away from the field to a convincing success. “He got the trip really well and travelled very strongly. When Joseph said go he quickened up very well,” said O’Brien. “It's unusual for a horse that stays that well to have that kind of class. He's a very exciting horse.”
Sadly the race was tinged with sadness, as Brown Panther pulled up injured midway through and had to be put down. He’d been a terrific racehorse and the pride and joy at Tom Dascombe’s yard. Owner and breeder Michael Owen spoke of the loss: “It's the saddest day of my life. The toughest, most honest, most brilliant horse I will ever set eyes on passed away today doing the thing he loved most. I was with him when he was born, shared an experience for seven years that will never be repeated and gave him his last kiss goodbye. What an honour to own and breed him.”
The highs and lows of Sunday followed on from a no less dramatic Saturday. At Leopardstown Golden Horn bashed his way to success in the Irish Champion Stakes, whilst Simple Verse nudged her way to defeat in the St Leger at Doncaster.
Stewards were left to sort the aftermath and many were left dismayed at their decisions. In Ireland the winning trainer John Gosden blamed a shadow for Golden Horn's sidestep that saw rival Free Eagle virtually knocked off his hooves. He said: “The shadow of the grandstand caused him to hang. He's done it well and handled the ground. He's a top-class horse. I think the fact Free Eagle finished third was a great help to us. This is a great race on a fabulous weekend and it's a perfect three weeks to the Arc where we want to go next.”
Dermot Weld, trainer of Free Eagle, commented: “Pat said that the interference completely knocked the wind out of Free Eagle and cost him the race. But I'm very proud of the horse and, I'll speak to Pat, but the Arc has to be under consideration.”
It’s impossible to say how the race would have concluded without the ‘coming together’. There’s every chance the two will meet again in France though it’s likely both will play a supporting role rather than taking the lead in that particular show.
At Doncaster Ralph Beckett, Andrea Atzeni, connections of Simple Verse and the vast majority of onlookers were left reeling from the stewards’ decision to demote the filly and hand the race to Ballydoyle’s Bondi Beach. There’s no denying that in France or America the colt would have been awarded the race, but this is England, where fair play and common sense prevail.
Two jockeys tried to argue their case, but in truth, why should their opinions make the slightest difference in such decisions. Countless camera angles allow the officials to see exactly what occurred without the need for such a ‘panto’. Who did what to who and how is surely unnecessary, and though some quarters; yes I’m talking to you Channel 4; appear to think such disputes are entertaining, the sight of jockeys involved in a Jeremy Kyle type debate can only serve to harm the sport.
Of course people will watch the evidence and draw differing conclusions, but the steward’s cannot allow themselves to be swayed by the most persuasive jockey. I’ve watched the race over and over again, as I’m sure many others have. For what it’s worth, this is how I see the matter.
Bondi Beach leans into the filly up the Doncaster straight, with crucially, his jockey actually changing whip hand thereby promoting his mounts wayward line. Having bumped her way into the clear, causing Ballydoyle’s colt minimal interference, Simple Verse accelerates to a half-length advantage. The colt continues to lean all over the filly with the jockey continuing to use the whip in his wrong hand, again failing to correct his mount’s line.
Atzeni has his whip in his correct left hand to prevent a collision with Storm The Stars on the rail. His filly moves away from the whip causing her to ‘nudge’ the colt, though this contact causes even less, if any interference. At no point is Bondi Beach’s stride pattern affected, his gallop is maintained all the way to the line.
Passing the post, Beckett’s horse maintains her advantage, though narrow, but it is noticeable that through the line that advantage continues. It’s a tough call, and I’d be wrong to say that any decision was clear cut. But Bondi Beach clearly ran off a straight line during his charge for glory. Jockey Colm O’Donoghue portrayed himself as the victim to the stewards in the ‘after-match show’. Yet his insistence in using his whip in his right hand actually exacerbated the situation.
A clearly distraught Beckett said after the race: “I'm astonished, apart from anything else as there is no consistency in the rule. Clearly whatever way you look at it both horses lean on each other and can you really say it's entirely her fault when both horses lean on each other? One thing's for certain and that is that we will appeal this."
The consistency of stewarding came into question after the result was changed but Paul Barton, Head of Stewarding, said he felt the correct decision had been made. He said: "We had to decide if there was any interference and we decided there were two incidents, one inside the two furlong and one inside the half furlong. The combination of the two in our opinion improved Simple Verse's position. We try to take a dispassionate view and the stewards have to leave the room satisfied they've made the right decision and I think they have."
That dispassionate view is surely compromised under the current system. For many, the result was wrong, and sadly tarnished a fabulous spectacle.