We all know horse racing is about the haves and the have nots, writes Tony Stafford. Saturday’s epic King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (sponsored by Qipco) was not so much the ultimate day out for the haves but also a contest after which everyone lucky enough to see it in the flesh, or even I would imagine on television, would have their enthusiasm for the sport at its purest rekindled.
Sir Mark Prescott came out in print recently saying that when riders transgress the whip rules, the horse they ride should be disqualified. That’s an opinion I share.
Often it’s in the most valuable races that those excesses proliferate, where two horses are going head to head as Crystal Ocean and his conqueror Enable did throughout the last couple of furlongs at Ascot on Saturday.
It is in such circumstances, the apologists for non-disqualification aver, that it is almost inevitable said jockeys would need to exceed the permitted levels, whatever they might be at the time.
I can’t really vouch for James Doyle who, on the rail with the whip in his right hand certainly made a number of such motions, pretty much hidden from the camera, but the impression was that it was in no way excessive.
Meanwhile Frankie Dettori on Enable was in full view from the stands and the cameras and held the whip in his left hand throughout. Technically, the “whip in wrong hand” accusation which was generally used in times gone by to indicate and possibly determine blame in the event of movement to left or right, applied to both jockeys in this case.
The fact that no question cropped up is because the brave Crystal Ocean and impossibly brave, talented, brilliant and durable Enable never deviated from the straight.
In a year where Dettori has been clocking up Group 1 wins for fun all around Europe for most of the summer, I wish to commend this as the ride of the season. Not for his strength in a long-drawn-out battle, but for his sympathetic steering. Enable was given a single – that’s right, just one – firm back-hander early in the tussle and then the Italian was content to use the whip solely as an agent for rhythm. Perfection!
There was also an admirable performance in third by the Andre Fabre-trained Waldgeist who plugged on gallantly clear of the rest to be less than two lengths behind the principals, once again showing his quality for owners Gestut Ammerland and Newsells Park stud.
On this showing Messrs Gosden and Dettori, and Sir Michael Stoute and Doyle, offered nothing short of the ultimate in top-class competition.
Early last week, though, the Ayr stewards showed the one rule for the rich (the haves) and another for the poor (have-nots) is alive and well in less glamorous circles. After a lowly 46-65 mile handicap, the stewards investigated the riding of winning jockey Paul Hanagan on Rosemay and 7lb claimer Rhona Pindar on the neck runner-up Betty Grable.
Unfortunately, on the day there was a fault from the course which prevented any of the races being broadcast live either in betting shops or on Racing TV. They were shown later in the replay that evening and the following morning, but are still unavailable on the internet.
There was (and still is) little indication from either the post-race comments or analysis in Racing Post that anything was amiss, the winner being asked to make an effort two furlongs out and being driven out to win. The second led over one out, was headed, rallied and held close home.
But the stewards, in their wisdom, found that Ms Pindar, a veteran of just over one hundred career rides and nine wins, had not taken sufficient action to prevent her mount, a five-year-old mare, from drifting into another runner in the straight, awarding her a three-day ban, which Betty Grable’s trainer Wilf Storey described as excessive and somewhat petty.
For Hanagan’s part, he also picked up a ban, in his case only two days. Yet the reason for his ban was that he had struck his horse throughout the final furlong from above the permitted height, possibly to my (and Wilf’s point of view) a more heinous crime even than numerical excess.
Hanagan, twice a champion jockey, has ridden 1,966 domestic winners. It seems there is a cosy assumption that the best-known are allowed plenty of leeway while those starting out on the difficult path of trying to emulate their heroes can expect to be treated with a lack of sympathy.
This needs to be addressed.
I think whenever young riders start out they should be shown the film of the finish to Saturday’s big race. Of course very few horses develop the willingness to battle as demonstrated so graphically by Enable.
Some questioned whether the race will have “bottomed” her but no outside agent will have contributed to any energy drain. The way she instantly quickened to join the leaders at the start of the straight having been left somewhat out on a limb after a sluggish start from a wide draw certainly got Simon Holt excited.
The now-veteran, a racecourse rather than TV commentator these days after his long stint on Channel Four, got more entranced by the contest as the line approached. “She’ll win her second King George. What a race! That was a horse race!” Holt said, his voice breaking with emotion.
Many recalled (mostly by repute) the Grundy/Bustino clash and their uncannily-similar King George epic from 1975. Holt remembers it and so did John Sexton, given leave of absence from the North Lancashire coast where he does some presenting work at Cartmel, for yesterday’s final stage of the extended Go Racing in Yorkshire week that ended at Pontefract.
Big John, one time President of the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association retains his love of the sport and he shared it with, among others, John Dyson, a close friend of Robin O’Ryan (brother of late lamented Tom) and a supporter of the Richard Fahey stable which won yesterday’s opener with Pop Dancer.
Dyson had been chatting with me before the first race and when the conversation on the table where we were having a coffee turned to football, he said his brother used to play for Spurs in their double year of 1960-61.
I resisted: “Still waiting”, instead learning that his brother, now 84 and living in Stevenage, is former winger Terry Dyson. The Dysons came from Malton and Terry, he told me, is one of only four surviving members of the double team and the only Spurs player ever to score a hat-trick against Arsenal in a League match.