Nick Townsend: Days of dubious tactics as Godolphin-Coolmore relationship gets cooler
'I can't believe the stewards went along with Frankie's version'
Sunday 01 October 2006
Team tactics. Critical in last weekend's Ryder Cup at the K Club; condemned in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. Horseracing is usually likened to golf in the respect that is accorded, albeit on occasions rather begrudgingly, a rival's performance, be they jockey or trainer. Not last Saturday, though, when, after the centrepiece of the day had been won by George Washington as smoothly as a presidential limo, an almighty contretemps ensued involving the riders of the horses which had finished sixth and last.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien, scarcely a Bob Geldof in his garrulousness and a character normally so subdued you can barely discern he is talking at all, accused the jockey Frankie Dettori of "throwing the toys out of the pram like a spoilt child" and of "shouting and hurling abuse at me".
Despite Dettori's insistence later in the week that he had "moved on" the geiger counter of inner rage is still detecting fall-out from the row between the two racing superpowers, Coolmore and Godolphin.
Dettori had complained after his mount Librettist, one of the Godolphin team, had been carried slightly wide by the Seamus Heffernan-ridden, Ballydoyle-trained Ivan Denisovich entering the straight. Perversely, the Ascot stewards invoked, for the first time, "Instruction H1: Pacemakers (Team Tactics)" of the Rules of Racing, which effectively prohibits a horse from making a manoeuvre "in the interests" of another runner in the same ownership or from the same stables.
O'Brien said: "Immediately after the race, Frankie started shouting at Christophe Soumillon [the rider of the runner-up, Araafa], got him onside and into the stewards' room with him. I cannot believe that the stewards went along with Frankie's version."
Nor could many comprehend the judgement of the Ascot stewards, particularly when Heffernan - who could succeed Kieren Fallon at Ballydoyle at the start of the 2007 Flat season - was banned for 14 days, though he has appealed.
Despite protestations to the contrary, it is evidence that the cold war between the Ballydoyle-based Coolmore operation and Sheikh Mohammed's Boys in Blue still exists, on the racetrack as well as at the sales ring.
Though O'Brien claims that such a rift does not exist, he added: "What I do know is that after Frankie won the St Leger for us on Scorpion last year, we rang up and tried to book him for another horse of ours. We were told that Frankie was not allowed to ride for us any more. What is anyone to make of that?"
Incidentally, another curious aspect of the Rules of Racing is that pacemakers are permitted, "provided that they are run on their merits", which another rule requires. Can anyone explain how a horse which is there purely to set a pace, and which then inevitably drops away through the field (which is in itself a potentially dangerous aspect of the trend) can be said to be running on its merits? Anyway, shouldn't horses whose owners and trainers aspire to the status of champions for them be capable of making their own pace, if necessary?
But to return to the specific team issue, one suspects that the French racing authority France Gallop will be inspecting closely article 166 of their own rule book today, on the subject of runners in multiple ownership.
It states: "When an owner has several horses in the same race, and if one of his horses or its jockey pushes, hinders or hustles in any way, one or several runners in the same event, all the horses belonging to that owner must be demoted or disqualified." That appears to allow for a very liberal interpretation of events.
It's as well, perhaps, that today's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp includes no Ballydoyle runners, while Dettori partners the only British representative, Jeremy Noseda's St Leger victor, Sixties Icon.
That dapper maestro of Chantilly, André Fabre, does, however, saddle three out of the eight runners, and with last season's winner, Hurricane Run, and Shirocco, just two of them, there should be no requirement at all for any dubious tactics.
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