An abrupt left turn on a hurdler called Surprising may prove to be one the most expensive manoeuvres of Mick Fitzgerald's career after the rider's appeal against a six-day riding ban was thrown out by the Jockey Club's disciplinary committee yesterday. Fitzgerald will not ride in public until next Tuesday, and he did not even leave Portman Square with his £400 deposit, the committee having decided that he was, in effect, wasting their time.
The ban, which was imposed at Cheltenham on 18 November, rules Fitzgerald out of the Hennessy meeting at Newbury where, in addition to Ad Hoc, the Whitbread winner, in the feature race, his book would surely have included several good prospects from Nick Henderson's yard. The panel at Cheltenham decided that Fitzgerald had been guilty of irresponsible riding of a major nature when Surprising veered across Telemoss in a handicap hurdle, and although Andrew Chalk, Fitzgerald's solicitor, argued for almost two hours that the offence should be downgraded from "major" to "minor", and a four-day ban leaving him free to ride on Saturday, the committee were not to be persuaded.
"Andrew did a great job for me but it just wasn't to be," Fitzgerald said as he left Portman Square. "I shall be taking a break this week, and might retreat to Ireland and watch the big race on television. It's a meeting that I didn't want to miss, even though Marlborough is out. I've never ridden the winner of the Hennessy, and I still feel that Ad Hoc will be a very good ride for somebody."
John Maxse, the Jockey Club's spokesman, explained why Fitzgerald's appeal had failed. "The committee was of the view that he didn't look before he switched and that by making such a manoeuvre it would have been obvious that interference would be the result," he said. "Telemoss was nearly brought down in the incident and it obviously could have been very nasty."
With Fitzgerald absent, the connections of Ad Hoc are left to find a replacement, and a booking for Paul Nicholls's chaser is expected this morning. Two names being mentioned in dispatches yesterday were Ruby Walsh – who may be claimed to ride Commanche Court for his father, Ted – and Tony Dobbin, who rode One Man to victory in the Hennessy eight years ago.
"I don't want to comment on what the stewards decided but it's disappointing for Mick," Barry Simpson, racing manager to Sir Robert Ogden, Ad Hoc's owner, said yesterday. "I will be speaking to Sir Robert on Wednesday morning and we won't be making any decision about jockeys until after midday. I don't know what Ruby is doing, or Tony Dobbin, who has ridden the horse before, but they are the people we are considering. Ad Hoc is fine, he has been brought along very slowly this season with this race in mind [but] winning on Saturday is not the most important thing, we want to see what progress he has made through the summer and whether he is a top-class horse or a handicapper."
Three horses attracted Hennessy money with both Ladbrokes and William Hill yesterday. Behrajan, who was placed in the 2000 Stayers' Hurdle at the Festival, is 7-1 from 10-1 with Ladbrokes and 6-1 from 7-1 with Hills, while Martin Pipe's Take Control is 9-2 from 6-1 with both firms. Grey Abbey was a popular outsider, in to 16-1 from 20-1 with Ladbrokes, and down to as low as 12-1 (from 16-1) with Hills.
Dibea Times, one of the country's most promising young hurdlers, was yesterday reported to be in good form by Malcolm Jefferson ahead of his seasonal debut in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday. "Everything has got to go right but I think he has got a good chance," Jefferson said. "If everything goes all right, he will probably go for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton." Dibea Times won his first three starts over hurdles last season, but was pulled up when favourite for the Imperial Cup on heavy ground at Sandown in March. He is a 33-1 chance with the Tote for the Champion Hurdle.Reuse content