PAT KEANE: Centralising stewards’ inquiries a definite runner

The bumper at Navan on December 15, won by Willie Mullins’ Royal Caviar, was rather interesting.

Royal Caviar beat Stuart Crawford’s Fine Rightly by two and a quarter lengths and then kept the race, following a stewards’ inquiry.

That seemed to be the end of the matter, until Crawford lodged an appeal, which was heard a week yesterday.

The Appeals And Referrals Committee upheld the appeal and the valuable Grade 2 contest was awarded to Fine Rightly.

The decision didn’t attract anything like the amount of publicity it might have done, simply because it was heard on a Friday and was largely lost on the Saturday, with the emphasis very much on what was happening out on the tracks of Britain and Ireland that afternoon.

I saw the bumper on the day, including the head-on a few times, and soon formed the opinion that Royal Caviar would keep the race, but his rider, Patrick Mullins, was certain to be suspended. He got five days.

It wasn’t Mullins’ finest hour. He has developed into a superb amateur rider, nearly always keeps it simple and rarely makes a mistake.

On this occasion, however, for whatever reason, he seemed to make little attempt to keep Royal Caviar away from the second and serious interference took place.

My opinion was that, on the balance of probability, Royal Caviar would have won anyway and the stewards just about got this one right.

And that comes from someone, on record on a number of occasions, who believes that if you think a case is 50-50 then the benefit of the doubt should always be given to the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

When the news broke that Crawford was going to appeal, I remember thinking well that’s worth a try, but it won’t succeed.

The Appeals And Referrals Committee didn’t agree, however, and decided the balance of probability was that Fine Rightly would have won and so acted as they did.

I can see how they arrived at such a conclusion and certainly wouldn’t be strongly of the opinion they got it wrong.

And that’s really the problem, isn’t it? The name of the game when it comes to stewards’ inquiries is consistency and it’s sadly lacking.

Let’s compare, for instance, the Navan case and what happened at Killarney last July. At Killarney a horse called Positive Vibes won an 11 furlongs handicap by a head from Shalaman and then lost the race in the stewards’ room.

Interference was minimal, if there was any at all, and, much to the astonishment of most, you suspect, the decision of the Killarney stewards was subsequently upheld on appeal.

You simply cannot square both cases. If Positive Vibes deserved to be thrown out at Killarney then it should have taken the Navan stewards about five minutes to demote Royal Caviar.

Earlier this week At The Races had a fascinating interview with John Francome, on a range of racing subjects.

Listening to Francome, who has very strong views and no hesitation in expressing them, you quickly realised what a loss he is to C4.

Anyway, he spoke about stewards’ inquiries and made a compelling case for centralising the whole thing. Basically, Francome thinks there is no longer any need for local stewards.

He was talking specifically about Britain, but his plan would work even better in Ireland, with far less racing.

If I understood him correctly, what he would have is a team of professional stewards who would handle everything from a base, in this case the Turf Club.

Francome says that would work, due to modern technology. So the stewards would watch every contest and then decide when an inquiry was necessary.

Because they are professionals they would know exactly what the rules are, covering every eventuality, and then adjudicate accordingly.

It’s not so long ago this column put forward the notion that jockeys should never be allowed into stewards’ inquiries.

Some of them are capable of talking the hind legs of a donkey, while others might as well be wearing a tongue-tie.

Francome agrees. He said they do whatever it takes to either keep a race or to try and get one and just end up telling lies.

If it were decided, as it should be, to ban jockeys from inquiries then centralising stewarding would definitely be a runner.

A thought struck me at Thurles last Sunday and it was what a bunch of hardy souls racecourse bookmakers are.

Thurles was cold and a brief flurry of sleet and snow before the first race indicated this was going to be one unpleasant afternoon.

But, undaunted, there they were, 26 of them, ready for action and for the following three and a half hours they stood at the ready to accommodate anyone who wanted to have a wager. Mind you the weather did improve and that was a help.

I think it really is important for those of us who go racing that we give our trade to these layers, rather than playing with a faceless machine.

Because of the influence of the likes of Betfair there is real value on the tracks and, if you have your wager with a bookmaker, there is no percentage of the winnings to be paid afterwards if you are lucky enough to get one home in front.

A good case in point was Thunder And Roses, who won a maiden hurdle at Thurles. He wasn’t to be trusted, but represented value at 5-2 and was worth risking.

There was no problem getting that price on course, when he was actually less on Betfair. ‘Support the local economy’ has to be the catch-cry.


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