Mixed week for Irish stewards

Attempting to understand just what the stewards in this country might do has become virtually impossible.

That’s the only logical conclusion we can arrive at in the light of two inquiries of late, one at Fairyhouse on Monday and the other at Gowran Park on Thursday night.

Let’s start with Fairyhouse. The stewards on Grand National day have come in for their share of criticism, following the decision to demote Rogue Angel from first place in the Racing Post Champion Bumper.

Kicking seven bells out of stewards, the same as referees and their assistants in other sports, has always been a favourite pastime of at least some members of the press and of most other observers.

But here’s one who actually thinks the Fairyhouse stewards got this exactly right.

I have long argued here that when stewards are faced with a 50-50 decision then they should always find in favour of the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

Horse racing is the only sport that frequently offers the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt.

You will never see a referee in say GAA, soccer or rugby deciding that a player has fouled another, but would have got the ball in any case, so we’ll let it go. Such behaviour, on the part of officials in charge of a game, would be quite unthinkable.

Stewards’ inquiries, at least in Britain and Ireland, are not black and white and should never be so.

Stewards have to decide whether a result has been affected or not and there are occasions when you clearly won’t have universal agreement, after they have delivered a verdict.

Monday was very much one of those. Most, I think, felt the result would stand, but there were others who thought it could go either way.

On Wednesday afternoon, I sat down and watched the head-on of the race a couple of times.

When finished, I had no doubt whatsoever that the conclusion arrived at by the stewards was correct. We all know interference took place and, equally, that it was of the minimal variety.

Rogue Angel brushed against Balnaslow and took his ground for a few strides. And then that was the end of it. But when they reached the post there was just a short head between them, with Balnaslow battling on powerfully.

The stewards then swung into action and, truth to tell, there was no way, like a lot of these cases, that they could be certain what the outcome would have been had interference not taken place.

But, bravely, they found against the sinner, and in favour of the sinned, and have to be applauded for that.

I have read where the gap in the running rail, with less than a furlong to run, was a contributory factor in the horses coming together. The gap surely shouldn’t have been there in the first place and is an issue for Fairyhouse in the future.

Balnaslow did jink in a little into the gap, but watching the head-on I cannot see how this had anything to do with what happened subsequently.

And the term ‘what happened subsequently’ is the key, because the interference caused by Rogue Angel only started when the horses met the running rail again.

In other words they were clear of the gap when Rogue Angel caused interference to his opponent.

We have had some crazy decisions by stewards in this country over the years and who will ever forget Big Game Hunter being demoted at Clonmel in September of 2010, after winning a maiden hurdle?

The stewards were almost totally on their own that day and, of course, Big Game Hunter later got the race back on appeal. This latest decision did not come even remotely close to being crazy.

And then it was Gowran Park and a mile and a half maiden, which Olympiad won by a nose from Zafarqand.

The latter was very green and jinked away to his left when given a crack by Johnny Murtagh. Olympiad then edged out toward him and bumped and carried his rival across the track.

The interference was far worse than Fairyhouse and I had absolutely no doubt the placings would be reversed.

Astonishingly, at least to my way of thinking, the stewards took the exact opposite view and allowed the result to stand.

You simply cannot reconcile Fairyhouse and Gowran Park and the stewarding now has to be regarded as a bit of a joke - who’s laughing? - and completely lacking in any consistency.

************

Well, Flemenstar has been promoted to fourth favourite for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, following his latest demolition job on six opponents in the Powers’ Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

There’s no doubt he’s a smashing chaser, who jumps for fun and possesses a high cruising speed.

And the way he handled the good ground at Fairyhouse, having looking something of a mud-lark previously, was most encouraging.

But it would be wrong to be getting too carried away, on the basis he has yet to run beyond two and a half miles. I know he won a point-to-point, but that’s hardly relevant.

************

You’d imagine Gordon Elliott will enjoy his summer, knowing he has Don Cossack to look forward to come the autumn.

That was rather an awesome performance from the imposing gelding at Fairyhouse on Monday, to score by 17 lengths, and he seemed to be travelling at half-speed, compared to some useful rivals.

He has now won three bumpers in-a-row, not half bad for a horse which is regarded as a future three-mile chaser. But will he always need soft ground to produce his best?

************

A pal of mine backed a horse called Earth Dream in a hunter chase at Fakenham on Monday. He was trained by John Ferguson, partnered by his son, James, and won by 54 lengths.

Fresh with the sweet smell of success said pal observed: “He would have won if ridden by a gas bottle.”

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox