PAT KEANE: Irish racing owes the Limerick stewards a debt of gratitude

There is a perception in Irish racing that when the stewards spring into serious action you can be reasonably certain those on the receiving end will qualify as “little guys’’.

Well, the Limerick stewards last Sunday didn’t half turn that particular theory upside down, going after some of the biggest fish in the sea.

That they had the balls to lift their collective heads miles above the parapet has to be regarded as highly commendable, whether you agree or not with the severity of the punishments they applied.

Noble Emperor, in a handicap hurdle, was given a puzzling drive by Barry Geraghty and the stewards were left with absolutely no option but to take action.

The horse is owned by J P McManus, with Geraghty in his first season as his number one, after replacing Tony McCoy.

A 30-day suspension for Geraghty, 60 days for the horse and a €3,000 fine for Noble Emperor’s trainer, Tony Martin, was a fair old statement by those in the inner sanctum.

First things first. The stewards just had to react to what had unfolded before them. Noble Emperor went off the 7-4 favourite to beat six rivals and at no stage of the race did his supporters have any cause for optimism.

I have read and heard rubbish this week about the mildly ragged start to the race, but that had no bearing at all on what subsequently transpired.

The winner, Velocity Boy, went straight into the lead and by the time he was at the first flight, the favourite was already miles out of his ground.

Look at the contest as they headed to the third from home. Geraghty is still sitting motionless, almost as if he doesn’t realise that the race is entering its final stages.

We see a good shot of the horses leaving that third last behind and still there is no sense Geraghty is about to get down and dirty.

I watched the head-on up the straight this week and, quite honestly, Geraghty could not be accused of throwing the kitchen sink at his mount, indeed he actually does very little.

In the end Noble Emperor did all of his best work in the closing stages and, at the line, was a never nearer 11 lengths second.

The stewards quickly went into conclave, handed down the penalties and the one that caught everyone’s imagination, of course, was the thirty days for Geraghty.

Then this week, out of the woodwork, came those scrambling to be on side, most of whom seeing little wrong with what occurred.

Well, at best, this raised real question marks. I have no idea what the true Noble Emperor story was, perhaps the most logical explanation is that this was simply an ill-judged ride on the part of Geraghty.

But the stewards clearly didn’t see it that way and they acted accordingly. Geraghty, in his evidence, said the horse needs to be covered up and delivered late.

But when Noble Emperor won an admittedly weak beginners chase at Fairyhouse in January of last year, he was up front throughout, eventually scoring by 22 lengths.

When he was second behind the useful Very Wood in a Grade 2 chase at Navan in February of last year, Noble Emperor made most of the running.

When Noble Emperor scored over flights at Punchestown at the end of December, Geraghty drove him into the lead heading to the last.

The stewards were right to act so decisively, anything less would surely have been regarded as a dereliction of duty.

The integrity of racing and ensuring that punters can wager with confidence is of paramount importance.

This week as well, we had to endure endless waffle that if Geraghty was guilty then so were the other jockeys for not chasing the all-the-way winner much earlier. Bullshit.

Watch the race closely and you will soon conclude that not one of the other five runners could have been an inch closer to Velocity Boy at the end.

Through the final half a mile or so all five of those jockeys were more animated than Geraghty. A good example, for instance, is the third horse home, Cliff House.

He tried hard to close down the leader early in the straight and was in front of Noble Emperor at this stage.

His rider, Brian O’Connell, was rowing away but, in testing conditions, Cliff House was running up and down on the one spot in a matter of strides.

By the time the winning post was reached, Cliff House was legless, beaten a total of 26 lengths and 15 lengths adrift of Noble Emperor.

In contrast to the other horses in the contest, with the exception of Velocity Boy, Noble Emperor came home relatively well.

If the stewards erred then it was probably that they went too far and, in particular, depriving Geraghty from making a living for so long did strike one as a trifle harsh.

We know that both Geraghty and Martin are set to appeal and history tells us the likelihood is that the sentences will be greatly reduced.

But, no matter what happens going forward, Irish racing owes the Limerick stewards a debt of gratitude.

It cannot have been easy for them having to arrive at such conclusions when some of the biggest juggernauts in racing were involved. They have put down a marker and that is no bad thing.


Lifestyle

Not all trends are created equal. Some are exciting – like first-date butterflies; others are comforting – like ice-cream and Golden Girls reruns.Trend of the Week: Floral free for all

Veterinary medicine is a demanding career, leading to mental health problems for some vets.Elephant in the clinic: Helpline offers support to vets with mental health difficulties

Bonnie Ryan couldn’t be happier.On a roll: Why Bonnie Ryan couldn't be happier

From Ireland to America and fashion to homeswares, designer Helen James is developing interiors products for the high street with an emphasis on sustainability, beauty and function, writes Carol O’CallaghanConsider this: Meet Helen James

More From The Irish Examiner