Sunday Supplement: Strange Decisions…

Rueful: Ralph's filly was 'taken down'

Rueful: Ralph’s filly was ‘taken down’

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

You have to be careful what you wish for. For example, do you want Jose Mourinho to get the sack? If you were to take a rational view of his recent performances in front of the unforgiving, indeed crowing, media after his team’s recent lapses and factor in his latest unkempt rag and bone man appearance, you’d have to deduce he wants out.

But then, that’s the style in the 2015 world of instant gratification when the fact of winning rather than the manner and style of success is the be all and end all.

For instance Manchester United won and their new man, Tony Marshall (Anthony Martial to everyone else), did his fair instant impression of Terry (Thierry to everyone else) Henry as they all predicted he would to trump Christian Benteke’s outrageous overhead kick.

Manchester City got a last-gasp winner from an unknown 18-year-old Nigerian who had been on the pitch for two minutes to maintain their 100 per cent start, while Arsenal kept (almost) in touch and raised their percentage of goals scored by their strikers (as against two own goals) to three from just short of 90 attempts.

But those three won; Liverpool and Chelsea lost and that’s all that matters and the media have a field day whoever wins. Alone among observers I said during the summer that Wenger would not buy anyone after he got Cech to save shots. Nice to be right about something, but if I’ve altered what was going to be the theme of this piece, I’m sorry – it was just too good a chance to gloat at Mourinho’s predicament.

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There was also a small voice somewhere wanting to get out as Ralph (Rafe to you) Beckett celebrated the immediate aftermath of Simple Verse’s narrow defeat of Bondi Beach in the Ladbrokes St Leger at Doncaster. “She was easily the best”, he declared in that euphoric moment we have when hyperbole rules.

Unfortunately, as she was prepared for her final run by Andrea Atzeni, she collided with Bondi Beach inside the last two furlongs as the pair got to Fields Of Athenry and set off to chase new leader, Storm the Stars. They continued their joint attack, passing the weakening Storm the Stars together before Simple Verse gave the eventual runner-up another bump in the closing stages.

There is no question that in relation to what happens every day on British racecourses, Simple Verse was unlucky to lose the race. What must have been even more galling for Rafe and owner Sheikh (slim-look) Fahad, testing the latter’s oft-stated love of British racing, was the identical fate of the same connections’ Secret Gesture after coming home first in the Beverley D (Grade 1) at Arlington Park, Chicago last month.

That day some prime US jockey-acting by third-placed Stephanie’s Kitten’s rider, Irad Ortiz Jnr., got the comfortable five-year-old winner thrown out and placed third behind her alleged interfered-with victim. That was a far more contentious verdict, but US, and for that matter French, rules on interference allow for such apparent injustice.

You have to wonder whether Doncaster’s stewarding panel, and their supervising stipe, Paul Barton, had in mind the fact that just three weeks earlier, Bondi Beach got the wrong end of another inquiry in Yorkshire involving Storm the Stars in the Great Voltigeur at York.

That day I thought disqualification of the William Haggas horse had to be inevitable as he had twice bumped Bondi Beach while carrying him left almost the whole way across the Knavesmire in the closing stages while Pat Cosgrave continued to use the whip in the right (therefore incorrect) hand. Many others disagreed and they were proved right – Haggas losing a race in Yorkshire, God forbid! Was there an element of “we can’t do this to them again” about yesterday’s verdict, which once more proved my expectation of the likely outcome to be mistaken?

I was just as perplexed by the attitude of Jason Weaver on Attheraces as he suggested Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle had contributed to the almighty right-handed smack he got from Derby winner Golden Horn in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown by edging a little left into his rival’s path.

Well, the Derby winner’s swerve was as abrupt as it was unexpected and the head on showed Golden Horn continued on in the same direction so that the pair (who did not touch again) finished close to the stands rail. Yet nobody seemed to think there was much chance of a change and the announcement of “placings remain unaltered” came soon enough. Apparently the Irish rules on interference are pretty inflexible and the prospect of giving the race to runner-up Found, and thereby two Coolmore Group 1 promoted winners on the same day, was a step too far to entertain given those rules.

But to bring a challenging horse almost to a dead stop by such an abrupt change of direction surely deserved disqualification? Wrong again. Meanwhile Gleneagles sat out one more dance leaving many of us to think back to the small nudge which cost him victory in last year’s Lagardere on Arc Day, allowing an undeserving second to step up. Will there be another chance for him?

I started, after the football, with the St Leger and Rafe. That taking down (as the Americans say) of Simple Verse could not disguise the skill in developing fillies and mares that Beckett has exhibited in what is still a relatively short career.

The Racing Post lists big race winners for trainers and Beckett’s roll of honour takes in 15 races – should have been 16 – and 13 have gone to his fillies or mares. He’s won four Fred Darlings, two Investec Oaks (Look Here and Talent, with Secret Verse also second to the latter in 2013) while the staying theme continues with Cubanita’s successive wins in the 2013 St Simon and last year’s John Porter at Newbury.

Simple Verse, bred by one of Coolmore’s most productive nurseries, David and Diane Nagel’s Barronstown Stud, is a daughter of Duke of Marmalade, a multiple Group 1 winner who has now been sold to the Drakenstein stud in South Africa. Simple Verse cost 240,000gns as a yearling, one of the highest prices for a Duke of Marmalade, and benefited from Rafe’s style of steady progression in a stayer’s career.

She won at the third time of asking, as recently as April this year, her Lingfield maiden success earning her a modest rating of 72, lenient enough when you consider she had the 67-rated Yorkindredspirit 15 lengths back in third.

A near miss at Goodwood was followed by a hard-fought Salisbury handicap win off 82, and she was only on 88 when tackling the Group 3 Lillie Langtry over a mile and a half at Glorious Goodwood. She won with a determined finish which brought another 20lb hike and a St Leger challenge.  Beckett was so confident of his filly’s progress in the month since Goodwood that he persuaded Sheikh Fahad to stump up the £50,000 supplementary fee, and that looked a fair decision as the new mark gave her only 5lb and 4lb to find with the Voltigeur principals.

That she could go past the post in front was ample justification of his decision. Beckett’s immediate response that he will appeal was understandable and I think he must have a fair chance of being successful, but as I pointed out above, I rarely get it right where stewards’ are concerned.

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