Stewards’ courage applauded

It has to be regarded as one of the bravest decisions ever taken by stewards in this country.

At Leopardstown last Saturday, David Wachman’s Duntle landed the Group 1 Coolmore Matron Stakes by a short head from Henry Cecil’s Chachamaidee.

A stewards’ inquiry, however, was soon called and, following much agonising, Chachamaidee was promoted to first place.

The conclusion finally arrived at by the stewards surprised most observers and there is no doubt the vast majority would have allowed the result to stand.

It surprised this observer too, but only on the basis of what had gone before. In tight calls - and this was as marginal as it gets - the stewards have nearly always found in favour of the perpetrator rather than the victim.

We have long argued here that it should be the other way round and racing continues to be the only sport where you can gain a huge reward by clearly breaking the rules.

Let’s have a quick look back at a contest at Gowran Park on April 12, won by Dermot Weld’s Olympiad from John Oxx’s Zafarqand. Olympiad won by a nose - the minimum margin and less than a short head - and how he kept the race remains a mystery.

Olympiad began to edge to his left over a furlong down and, for much of the final furlong, literally pushed the second across the track.

I had no doubt the placings would be reversed and couldn’t believe it when proved wrong. The interference caused by Olympiad was far worse than what Duntle did at Leopardstown and that kind of utter inconsistency in the way different stewards behave is where the problem lies.

My opinion on the demotion of Duntle is that the stewards got this right and displayed enormous courage in swimming against the tide.

My surprise is based on what history has taught us and certainly with regard to allowing Olympiad to keep that Gowran heat.

I have watched the Matron Stakes several times this week and the facts are quite simple. Wayne Lordan, on Duntle, had nowhere to go early in the straight and had to get out, sooner rather than later. He switched to his right and, initially, did no damage. But he needed to edge away to his right a little more and did so.

Duntle flicked Alanza, who was forced onto Chachamaidee. There is no arguing that Chachamaidee was thus prevented from running in a straight line, at least for a few strides, and the principals then bounded to the line.

They were only separated by a short head on arrival and an inquiry was inevitable. Duntle is trained in Ireland and Chachamaidee in England and the stewards could have taken the easy way out and let well enough alone.

But, to their eternal credit, they reversed the placings. No one, including the stewards, could possibly know who would have won, if Chachamaidee had been allowed to run totally straight, but they have to be applauded for finding in favour of the victim.

The decision by Wachman, Lordan and the Niarchos family, owners of Duntle, to appeal the decision was a virtual certainty. They really had no alternative, but that’s for another day and we will await the outcome.

I must finish with a comment made to me by Ted Walsh, when he rang on his way home from Leopardstown on Saturday. Walsh said you could argue that the stewards got this right if a stop sign in Dublin means the same as a stop sign in the rest of the country. That’s as good a summing up of stewards’ inquiries in Ireland as we’re going to get.

Not having been to Ballydoyle for a while — those eagerly awaited press days in the spring have been discontinued in recent years — it was terrific to get back there last Monday to see Camelot.

If Aidan O’Brien was feeling in any way stressed, as Camelot bids to join Nijinsky as a Triple Crown winner at Doncaster today, then there were no outward indications and he came across as a man very much at peace with himself.

Some of us believe the Triple Crown is a relic of another era, but the vibe at Ballydoyle is if Camelot wins then it is going to mean a hell of a lot to all concerned.

We know he is far and away the best horse in the St Leger, but a mile and six and a half furlongs is a major step into the unknown and the fact the likes of Shergar and Alleged got beaten in the race tempers caution.

Anyway, one Camelot story O’Brien told us is well worth repeating. It centred on his victory as a two-year-old in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last October. He went off a heavily backed favourite and duly bolted in.

A couple of weeks before the Racing Post Trophy Camelot’s stable companion, Daddy Long Legs, won the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.

Then, in his second last piece of work prior to Doncaster, O’Brien informed us that Camelot beat Daddy Long Legs by 25 lengths. Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride.

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