When it comes to racing, stewards are a much-maligned species, frequently damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Everyone talks about them, jockeys, trainers, owners, the public and, of course, they often provide the press, at least those willing to have a go, with some great ammunition.
Most of the talking, the criticism, is done reasonably discreetly, especially where jockeys are concerned. They are well aware that when called before this body, diplomacy is an important tool.
You play the game in the stewards’ room, there will be plenty of time after a verdict is handed down to say what you really think.
Last weekend, however, William Buick produced a performance that was simply sensational, at least in our little racing world.
He put on a display which was lacking in any sort of sensitivity, that wasn’t very clever, as he tore into the stewards at Chantilly, following the French Oaks.
Buick finished ninth on a horse called Highlands Queen and was subsequently found guilty of dangerous riding.
Highlands Queen was disqualified and placed last and Buick suspended for 15 days. But then, according to the Racing Post, he pointed to each member of the stewarding panel and uttered the word “corrupt.’’
His suspension was quickly revised upwards to 30 days and would have been even more but for Buck’s apology.
It really was the most extraordinary outburst and, I think we can safely say, unprecedented.
Buick has a massive job, as a retained rider for Godolphin, and whether this will have consequences down the line remains to be seen.
In any case, his attack on the stewards brought to mind a couple of tales we have heard over the years.
There is, for instance, one associated with John Francome when he was a jockey. I have no idea if it’s actually true or not, but in time-honoured journalistic tradition, there is no reason to allow the facts get in the way of a good story!
Legend has it that Francome was in before the stewards one day and, just before they delivered their verdict, the chairman asked him if he had anything to say.
“Yes’’, said Francome, “what time are you bringing in the strawberries and cream?’’
And what about the Irish trainer who would stop Arkle, until he deemed the time was right to strike? In the middle of an enquiry many years ago, he reportedly asked the stewards to come outside to see something.
The stewards, thinking it was to do with evidence relevant to the ongoing enquiry, complied with his request.
But when they emerged into the sunlight he pointed to the hills and mountains in the distance and muttered: “That’s where I came from and you people are not going to send me back there.’’
Then there is a classic from top English trainer, Neville Crump. He died in 1997, having won the Aintree Grand National on three occasions, between 1948 and 1960.
Famous, or notorious, for his ribald sense of humour, he was once asked if a certain elderly member of the aristocracy would make a suitable racecourse steward.
Crump’s response was priceless.
He said: “Oh, he’d be perfect. He’s deaf, he’s blind, and he knows fuck all about racing.’’
Kicking seven bells out of stewards has long been a popular process, but the sooner the bold Buick learns there’s a time and a place the better it will be for him.
On March 26, just over three months ago, a 10 furlongs plus maiden was run at Cork.
It shaped as an innocuous contest, no different to most of the maidens that take place in the country throughout the season.
But this was no ordinary race, although it was impossible to envisage just how it would work out.
The maiden was won by Harzand, by no less than 16 lengths.
The same Harzand went on to land the Epsom Derby, with the second, Sword Fighter, taking the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot last week.
And then there was the remote fourth, the Jim Bolger-trained Qatari Hunter. The next time Qatari Hunter ran, he won a handicap at the Curragh and followed up two days later by defying a mandatory 5lbs penalty with any amount in hand at Gowran Park.
He was rated 79 when scoring at Gowran and was in action off his new mark of 89 at the Curragh last night.
Anyway, that Cork contest was some sizzler.
Years ago no self-respecting punter, at least not with any regularity, would back a horse ridden by a member of the female persuasion.
But that sort of thinking now belongs to the dark ages, driven initially, you suspect, by the superb Nina Carberry and very much carried on by fellow amateurs, the likes of Katie Walsh and Jane Mangan.
Indeed, when such ladies are booked to ride, I think most of us punters look on them as a plus and definitely not a minus.
Watching Rachael Blackmore, who is a professional, riding a double at Kilbeggan on Monday night, it struck me how our perception of lady riders has changed so dramatically.
I don’t think too many of us give any consideration to the fact she is a woman, but rather view her as a very talented 5lbs claimer.
To my eyes, Blackmore rides especially well, seems to be tactically astute and, seeing her driving Glenwood For Ever to a narrow success over fences at Kilbeggan, not too shy in a finish either.
The real test, obviously, will come when she loses her claim, but that’s down the road and let’s just enjoy her talents for the moment.
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