Friday, July 20, 2018
The stewards' inquiry into last Saturday's Coral-Eclipse has certainly got people talking. My view is that when it comes to such inquiries none of the talking should come from the jockeys.
Following criticism by the sponsors of the length of time it took to conclude the Eclipse hearing, Bruce Millington argued things could and should be speeded up by changing the inquiry system so that stewards do not interview the riders involved in any interference.
I couldn't agree more. In fact, from the moment I started riding I became ever more convinced that whatever I or anyone said in a stewards' inquiry was largely a waste of time.
If you go into an inquiry and perform like Perry Mason the stewards will conclude you're overdoing it and won't believe what you're saying.
Most riders generally feel they should make an effort because they don't want to give the impression they aren't doing part of their job properly. However, saying little can often be most effective.
Ryan Moore famously does not speak much during inquiries. Even so, I know full well that when Ryan does open his mouth the stewards hang on every word he says. When the stewards hear from people with such a towering reputation it's natural they should heed their words more than might have been the case if they had been spoken by a mere mortal.
Ryan handles himself well in the stewards' room. Equally, when I was riding there were people who terrible after the bing-bong was announced.
Sometimes that was because they kept repeating themselves. Hammering home a point repeatedly, even if that is unintentional, bores stewards. You can see it in their eyes. They almost get irritated by being told the same thing by the same person over and over again. When I heard an apprentice doing that I would often give him a kick in the ankle.
The worry regarding apprentices and conditionals representing themselves in inquiries, even if a trainer is with them, is they can easily say the wrong thing. For that reason I advise my apprentices to only talk when it's absolutely necessary. An inexperienced rider can throw away a race without realising he is doing it.
Another drawback jockeys face when in an inquiry is stewards will often ask questions that can easily trip up a jockey. A good example might be: "Were you aware there was another horse just behind you when you made your manoeuvre?"
If you say you were aware of the other horse's presence it implies you simply didn't care and carried on regardless. If you say you weren't aware the officials will deem you guilty of careless riding on the basis you should have been aware.
Either way you're going to end up in the wrong, so what's the point of being in the inquiry in the first place? The answer is there's no point.
Stewards should make their decisions based on the evidence of their own eyes - and that's a view I'm sure is shared by the vast majority of the weighing room. If the jockey really does want to make his or her voice heard an objection can be lodged at the scales. That's what happens in America, where before you even weigh in you telephone the stewards and put in your objection. Otherwise the stewards wouldn't speak to you.
Looking back at the Eclipse, there was never a chance of the first two placings being reversed. If Saxon Warrior had been promoted to first any horse who ever suffered interference would win any future inquiry.
The Eclipse was a verdict that should not have changed. I well remember one that should have been. The biggest joke I can ever remember was what happened after the 2013 Falmouth Stakes when my mount Sky Lantern should have been promoted to first but was not.
Elusive Kate dragged my filly from one side of the track to the other yet we were only beaten a neck. There should have been no need for me to say anything to the stewards, particularly as Sky Lantern was also struck by William Buick's whip. Elusive Kate had to be disqualified but was not. To rub salt in the wound we didn't even win on appeal.
I know people put forward mathematical theories that state why victims in these interference cases do not lose as much ground as you might think.
The flaw in that theory is it looks at only the physical, not the mental. Racing, like almost all sports, is about the mental as much as the physical. If two athletes were in a close finish and one managed to win by sticking his shoulder into the other and haranguing him, while the sufferer was also not allowed to defend himself, the loser would certainly have felt intimidated. That's how Sky Lantern would have felt that day on the July course.
Another interesting aspect of how stewards work concerns how they go through phases.
There are periods when the whip debate is raging. At times like that stewards become obsessed with the stick. In that particular week you might hit your horse nine times and get suspended. The following week you could hit your horse 11 times and receive no punishment whatsoever. Sometimes officials pay closer attention to marker pole infringements. It's also the case that if there has been a controversial inquiry you find stewards become a little nervous and start deliberating more slowly than usual.
Stewards' inquiries are therefore far from perfect and on occasions I have been left flabbergasted by their outcomes. Even so, at a time when the BHA is trying to decide how inquiries should look in the future, I would argue the current model, in which volunteer stewards are advised by professionals, is the right one.
Our stewarding system is steeped in tradition and I think it's one that sits well with British racing. Don't change it, but do keep the jockeys quiet.
Oisin Murphy gave Roaring Lion a lovely ride to win the Coral-Eclipse. That was good to see, as were some of the comments he made in a Racing Post interview prior to the race.
Oisin accepted he had once not been the most popular guy with his weighing room colleagues. There were reasons for that but Oisin has changed. I myself have used him on a Weathercock House runner this season.
Every jockey wants to win every race but as a rider there is a line you have to draw.
Imagine you're in the stalls before a maiden, sat on a 100-1 shot who is a little bit fat. There is no possible way you can win but you have a decent draw. The jockey outside you is on a 4-6 favourite trained by your boss. Race-riding etiquette says in those circumstances the jockey on the long-shot gives the jockey on the favourite a chance to take a decent early position.
Another example of normal behaviour would be at the other end of a race. If you are on a horse who is finishing like a train and it's obvious you are going to nick third or fourth you would usually let out a roar so the riders in front do not ease off in the last few strides and end up being punished for it. Nobody loses out, as you still pass those jockeys, but you prevent them picking up suspensions.
Such kindness is reciprocated. There are times when you can give help and times when you need help. However, if you never give help you'll never get help.
Pat Eddery would not set out to harm anyone. He was tough but fair and was respected by everyone for that reason.
In that sense Pat set an example for all jockeys to follow. He won just about every major race there was to win. Oisin has now won his first British Group 1 and I'm sure many more will follow because what has never been in doubt is the young man is enormously talented.
It looks like being a quiet day for us, even though we have four runners at Ascot.
You don't get many auction maidens at Ascot, so the one the track stages today (1.50) provides us with a nice opportunity to run newcomer Miss Enigma and Running Tide, who has the second start of his career.
Odyssa then goes in the fillies' handicap (2.25). She won making the running at Newmarket but then ran too free at Goodwood. Based on the evidence of her following outing at Chelmsford we feel she may want a straight track to be seen at her best.
Our afternoon ends in the 7f handicap (4.10) but Plant Pot Power will need to step up on what he has been doing to land a blow.
As a massive golf fan I always like to offer a few thoughts about the Open Championship. So here goes.
This year my main tip is 20-1 shot Jon Rahm, a brilliant and big Spaniard who could definitely be in the shake-up. Key to his game is he can hit the ball an awfully long way. He's very close to being able to win a major and this could be the one.
Justin Rose has been playing well this year and I would give him a shout, while Tiger Woods might represent each-way value. I'm not sure he can win another major but a links course provides him with his best opportunity.
I wouldn't be backing Rory McIlroy. He has been putting his way out of competitions. Rory is incredibly talented, so he'll fix it, but at the moment it's holding him back.
My wife, Lizzie, might dispute this but I don't play as much as I used to. I did read once that good trainers don't play golf but Vincent O'Brien used to play, which is good enough for me. It's a great mental relief and I can also hit the ball 30 yards further since I retired from the saddle as I'm two-stone heavier with thicker legs. I'm not complaining!