ORWELLIAN THINKING IN THE STEWARDS ROOM?…. By Rob Young

ORWELLIAN THINKING IN THE STEWARDS ROOM?…. By Rob Young

 

Glyn Schofield rode Up n Rolling at Canterbury. Photo courtesy Ross Stevenson.

Way back in 1945, George Orwell wrote the allegorical novel “Animal Farm” as a satire on Communism. The famous quote at the end of the novel is “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Looking over the issues in the recent inquiry into the run of Up ‘N Rolling at Canterbury last month, in my opinion it’s a bit hard not to think that the stewards have read “Animal Farm”!

 

At the outset, let’s all accept that strategy decisions in race riding are split-second calls. It’s very easy to go from rooster to feather duster, and it’s very easy to criticise from the grandstand. But a careful scrutiny of the race video, and a careful review of the stewards’ argument supporting their decision to take no action over the ride, makes one wonder if there isn’t one rule and approach for the senior – and more successful riders – and another rule for the apprentices and the journeyman riders. It really looks like “all riders are equal, but some riders are more equal than others”!

 

Over recent months, there have been quite a few occasions when some of our top flight jockeys have put in a shocker of a ride and clearly cost their mount a win. In my view, that was exactly the case in the Up ‘N Rolling situation. The horse didn’t get a clear run until after the 200 metre mark, absolutely flew home, and failed by about half a length to overhaul the winner, Kiseki Dane, after being around 5 lengths off Kiseki Dane with 200 metres to go. But why did the problem arise? Watch the race video, and try to get the video that has the stewards comments justifying the decision. Here is a perfect example of misplaced persistence. The rider persevered in trying to get an inside run from the back of the field, but that run just didn’t happen until Kiseki Dane was off and gone. The video shows that Up ‘N Rolling was checked at the 400 metre mark, and again at the 220 metre mark, in trying for that elusive inside run. When it finally came, Up ‘N Rolling would have needed to be Chautauqua to have made it in time!

 

And here’s the rub. The rider was a senior and well-respected jockey, and rightly so. He has earned that position through consistent high performance over many years. He also put a logical and well reasoned argument to stewards in support of his ride, as is his right, and won a favourable decision. One of the factors working to his advantage was that the pattern of racing on that day seemed to be favouring staying to the inside. But, the fact remains that the video shows that Up ’N Rolling had lengths on his opposition, and, had he been taken to the outside at the 400 metre mark, he would have won the race by panels of fencing. The stewards made no mention of this possibility. In fact, listening to the stewards commentary, it seems that they gave no consideration to the fact that, at the 400 metre mark, Up ‘N Rolling absolutely had the room to come over the heels of the horse in front and so get into clear ground. That opportunity vanished as the rider persisted in chasing an inside run!

 

There have been other similar situations. The run of Artistry in the Dark Jewel Classic at Scone on May 13 this year is worth a look. So is the run of Calanda in the Inglis Guineas on the same programme. Both ridden by one of our top riders and both inhibited by the tactics chosen. Artistry wins her races by swooping down the outside – but not this time. She was cluttered up inside horses and simply didn’t get a clear shot at the lead. Same thing with Calanda. The horse was never tested in the straight. No stewards inquiry into either run.

 

There are two key questions to consider.

 

Question A:      Would the same decisions have been taken by the stewards if the riders had been apprentices, or less fashionable jockeys?

 

Question B:      Now that the stewards have established a precedent by releasing the stewards patrol film of the Up ‘N Coming race, together with their commentary justifying their decision not to penalise the rider, does that process now become available to every jockey whose tactics are questioned by either the stewards or the public?

 

The answer to Question A has to be “probably not”. As evidence, watch the video of Soul Testa’s run in the Goulburn Express Freight Maiden on March 17 this year. A similar tactical error to the Up ‘N Rolling situation, and a 4 month suspension for a less fashionable senior rider. And it isn’t even worth arguing the case if the rider was an apprentice. Of course there would be a suspension. Isn’t that part of “paying your dues”?

 

The answer to Question B is probably more interesting. The simple fact is that the stewards have created a precedent. How can they now deny any rider the chance to use the patrol film in the same way that it was used in the Up ‘N Coming situation? If that request is refused, and a suspension issued, the next step will be an appeal based not on the actual facts of the ride, but on the denial of natural justice involved in denying the same consideration that was given in the Up ‘N Running case.

 

Nobody is saying that race riding is easy. Every rider, even the best of the best is entitled to make the odd mistake. But, the owners of Up ’N Running can’t have been happy with that ride, or the justification that came from the stewards! And the fact is that several of our top riders are finding themselves in the position of having to justify their tactics too often. Several of our top riders seem to be trying to ride too “pretty”, too often!

 

What does complicate things even further – and this isn’t restricted to racing – is the level of inconsistency in the decision-making of sports administrators. In this situation, the stewards may well have created a monster by reacting to public pressure and releasing their thought processes in reaching a decision to penalise a rider, or not. That isn’t consistent with past practice. Sometimes, certain things need to remain behind closed doors, or at the least, remain part of an established process. By going public, the stewards may have opened the door to wider civil appeals to enter the world of racing, and that will be a problematical thing!