Ralph Beckett had a smile back on his face yesterday after a “miserable 11 days” ended with Simple Verse being reinstated as the winner of this year’s Ladbrokes St Leger.
The Andover handler saw a disciplinary panel, chaired by Tim Charlton QC, at the British Horseracing Authority’s headquarters in High Holborn find in favour of reversing the stewards’ decision at Doncaster to place the Aidan O’Brien-trained Bondi Beach first in the world’s oldest Classic.
Having addressed the hearing first, Andrea Atzeni, rider of Simple Verse, admitted in his cross-examination by John Kelsey-Fry QC that he did cause the first piece of interference, just inside the two-furlong pole, but only due to the fact his mount had been lent on by Bondi Beach.
In response to Atzeni’s comments, Bondi Beach’s jockey Colm O’Donoghue felt that both the first case of interference, and the second, which occurred inside the final half a furlong, caused his horse to suffer not only a loss of ground but also a crucial loss of momentum.
The hearing then heard the case for Bondi Beach put forward by Kelsey-Fry to the panel, with him emphasising strongly on the first point of contact as the more prominent matter.
He said: “The first incident is the more significant. Simple Verse was at this point boxed in.
“Consequently Bondi Beach is upsides him and he [Atzeni] had nowhere to go. In accordance with the rules, Mr Atzeni either had to sit and suffer or come around Bondi Beach.
“Simple Verse would have been more than a length behind to come around him and if that interference had not happened he would have been three-quarters of a length down, not up, so that is one-and-three-quarter lengths and in the end Bondi Beach has lost by a head.
“If there was no interference there, Bondi Beach would have been first past the post and Simple Verse maybe described as an unlucky loser.”
Graeme McPherson QC, arguing the case for connections of the Qatar Racing-owned Simple Verse, acknowledged interference took place but argued Bondi Beach had enough time to recover and go past.
McPherson said: “Simple Verse would have won regardless whether or not interference had taken place.
“Passing the three pole, Mr Atzeni makes as much progression without using his stick unlike Mr O’Donoghue. He does not get straight past Storm The Stars, but hangs in which has caused Andrea Atzeni to stop riding.
“Yes, Bondi Beach has to change legs but he does not break stride or become snatched up or unbalanced, if he does, it is only momentarily, as a few strides later he uses the stick which is a reason he is not unbalanced.
“There is no getting away from the fact they are 440 yards away from the line. If Bondi Beach was good enough from the immediate aftermath of the first incident he would have made enough progress to go by, but he simply doesn’t.”
After hearing more than three hours of evidence, and watching countless replays of the one-mile-six-furlong contest, the panel, which also featured Lady Celina Carter and Ian Stark, felt the combined two cases of interference did not improve the placing of Simple Verse.
Charlton said: “The first incident was caused by Andrea Atzeni manoeuvring out. It did cause Bondi Beach a loss of momentum, however Simple Verse was going better at the time and went a head or neck up, partly because of the bump and partly because she was travelling better.
“In the second incident, Simple Verse moved right after a hit behind the saddle with the left hand, but there was no interference of Bondi Beach in the lead up to this. This interference does not constitute the head distance when they got to the finishing post.
“The combined effect of the two instances do not improve the placing of Simple Verse, therefore we are changing the decision made by the stewards at Doncaster.”
Beckett said: “For me, under our rules, we always had an excellent case, given what has been going on on our racecourses for the last five years in similar instances.
“I thought our brief [McPherson] was excellent and argued it very well and I was confident the panel would see it our way, but obviously you can never be sure.
“It’s not quite the same, and it’s never going to be quite the same, in the sense of when you have it taken away on the day. It was horrendous at the time and it’s been a pretty miserable 11 days for those who live and work with me. It’s not been much fun.”
Simple Verse had been supplemented for the Leger at a cost of £50,000 after winning a Group Three at Glorious Goodwood, which itself had represented a step up in class following a Salisbury handicap win in June.
O’Brien said: “I am delighted for Ralph Beckett and Sheikh Fahad on his first [British] Classic win. We felt we had a fair hearing and some you win and some you lose.
“Colm did his best to give the horse a winning ride and conducted himself like a professional today.
“Colm lost a Classic, but I’m sure he will get more, life goes on, some days work for you and some against.
“I think Bondi Beach will go to Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup now, as he seems in good form since Doncaster.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved