PAT KEANE: Leger stewards got it right

Simple Verse and Andrea Atzeni (claret colours) bump Bondi Beach and Colm O'Donoghue in the closing stages of last weekend's St Leger at Doncaster. O'Donoghue, superb on the track, played a blinder in the subsequent stewards' inquiry.

No sooner had the Leger at Doncaster on Saturday finished than a pal of mine rang to ask what I thought would happen at the subsequent stewards’ inquiry.

I replied that in my opinion the winner, Simple Verse, would be thrown out for certain in any other jurisdiction except Britain.

I wrote here some weeks ago that to lose a race in Britain, at an in inquiry, you nearly had to kill someone.

Precedent dictated that the way they do things over there is to leave the result stand and suspend the offending jockey.

Undaunted, however, our friend opined that not even in Britain could the placings remain unaltered and, with Simple Verse at that moment a 1-5 shot to keep the contest, he felt obliged to lay it.

And so he risked €1,000 to win €5,000 and was rewarded with a delightful payday, as the stewards, remarkably, nodded in his favour.

Was the stewards’ decision the correct one? Of course it was.

Andrea Atzeni, on Simple Verse, was locked away with two furlongs to run, hemmed in by superb riding by Colm O’Donoghue on Bondi Beach.

Atzeni was left with two choices, to wait for a gap to appear, or to pull back and challenge outside Bondi Beach.

He chose neither option and instead forced his way out, with about a furlong and a half to run, created an opening for himself and bumped Bondi Beach in the process.

Simple Verse and Atzeni then made the situation worse with less than half a furlong to travel when edging out towards Bondi Beach and administering another bump.

At the line Simple Verse was a head in front of Bondi Beach and, given so much of what had gone before, Atzeni was entitled to be satisfied with his work.

He had effectively taken the law into his own hands, but a few days suspension was only going to be a minor irritant, given he was entitled to feel more than confident about keeping the race.

But the Doncaster stewards turned everything on its head and Atzeni was left utterly frustrated, which was brilliantly captured by the Channel 4 cameras.

O’Donoghue, superb on the track, played an absolute blinder in the stewards’ room, accurate, concise and articulate, and his display had to have had a bearing on the final outcome.

The conclusion to be drawn, of course, is that it is simply impossible to get any sort of handle on the rules as they operate in Britain.

I mean how did Bondi Beach not get the Voltigeur at York previously, after he was carried across most of the track in the closing stages by eventual winner, Storm The Stars?

Pat Cosgrave, on Storm The Stars, made little effort to keep his mount straight, presumably on the basis that winning the race was far more important than incurring a suspension.

The fact there was a half a length between the principals then, as against a head at Doncaster, was an obvious factor.

For the result to be reversed the stewards had to believe the winner improved his placing, not beyond a reasonable doubt mind you, and so gave the benefit of the doubt to the transgressor.

But here’s the thing. Storm The Stars was also in the Leger field at Doncaster, admittedly on a different day, different track and over a different trip.

But the facts are that Bondi Beach, despite twice suffering interference, beat Storm The Stars two lengths into fourth spot.

The lesson to be learnt is that when it is a desperately close call at a stewards’ inquiry the benefit of the doubt surely should go to the victim.

Then there was that carry on by Golden Horn at Leopardstown, as he survived a stewards’ inquiry, after landing the Irish Champion Stakes.

We know he lunged away to his right inside the final furlong and put an end to the chances of the challenging Free Eagle.

I had my few quid on Free Eagle and have little doubt that, had he finished second, would have been awarded the race in the stewards’ room.

But he didn’t and lost the runner-up berth by half a length to Found.

In France, or the USA, disqualification would have been automatic for Golden Horn.

But I prefer our system by a long way and the stewards clearly had no option but to allow the result to stand.

Everyone on Free Eagle’s side, connections and those who backed him, lost out in a major way. But rules in all sports are far from perfect and to promote Found to first would have represented a far greater injustice.

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You only had to observe over the weekend the body language of John Magnier, Derrick Smith, Michael Tabor and Aidan O’Brien to conclude that the travails of the summer now seem firmly behind the fab four.

O’Brien saddling all three Group 1 winners at the Curragh on Sunday told you all you need to know that maintaining the status quo is the way to go.

O’Brien’s Order Of St George spreadeagling of the opposition in the Irish Leger ensured us a half decent return, but again I had to smile at the reaction of those off-course bookmakers.

They offered 5-1, it was 3-1 with Paddy Power yesterday, about him winning the Ascot Gold Cup next June.

The son of Galileo is clearly at his best on soft ground, basically he’s a machine on it, but the chances of having conditions to suit at Royal Ascot are virtually nil.


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