Racing: Prescott sees Secret justice done

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The Independent Online

The Newmarket trainer was in town to explain the run of his Secret Liaison at Newcastle earlier this month. The problem was even Marcel Marceau could have provided an explanation for the display. Prescott's oratory skills were not required, rather an explanation from the Gosforth Park stewards as to why Secret Liaison had been penalised in the first place.

The original verdict was this: Secret Liaison was suspended from running for 40 days, Prescott fined £2,000 and Jean-Pierre Guillambert, the jockey, banned for 14 days, all over the running of the toteplacepot EBF Maiden Stakes, all concerned with the non-triers rule. All counts were ultimately struck off yesterday by the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Panel.

It was a North-east contest in which Stepping Up, from Mark Johnston's stable, broke the two-year-old course record. That should have been the notable element of the race. Then the stewards stepped in.

Secret Liaison finished seventh, beaten just over 13 lengths, but there were those who thought this was not a true reflection of the grey's ability (seasoned racereaders at the course were not among them). Guillambert explained at the time that he had stopped riding three times because he did not want to force his mount up a small gap on the rail where a rival jockey's whip was flailing. That, apparently, was not sufficient.

Sir Mark initially tendered his stiff upper lip when his team was punished, but decided to go to appeal over the injustice to his jockey. "I felt very strongly that J P should not be banned," he said yesterday. "That was completely and utterly wrong."

The case yesterday was hardly a test of Prescott's acumen. He brought with him good sense, a folder and patience, the last required because he had not last been without a cigar for many a waking hour. Along the way at the appeal, the baronet did manage to play to the camera, flashing his eyes and some of his comments to the press benches.

Prescott had not been at Newcastle to watch Secret Liaison as he had runners throughout the country. He tuned in from home. "I thought the horse had run rather well," the trainer considered before switching channels on the day. "I never gave the race another thought. I thought there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. The horse ran an absolutely normal race."

What, it was posed, had Prescott gained from the exercise? "I learnt that Mark Johnston had a pretty good horse which broke the track record and that mine had ability and might win a little race along the way," he said. "I hate to say it with all the trouble he has caused, but ours is a boringly normal horse. It seems to me surprising that we all find ourselves here."

There was, though, the intriguing thought of a conspiracy theory. Prescott, the master of the racecourse plot, has been in this Geordie pickle before. In 1998 his Swagger was banned after finishing down the field in a similar contest. It took a year and seven races for Swagger to win a race and that was rated 39 in an all-weather amateur riders' handicap over 1m 6f at Southwell. On that Tyneside occasion and this, Phil Tuck was the stipendiary steward.

"It may be complete coincidence but I think I might avoid six-furlong maidens at Newcastle from now on," Prescott added. "My two horror stories have both come on the same track, in the same race. Memories of the wrong burglary come to mind. We have a lot of three-year-old handicap winners and I am realistic enough to know some people might think why this is.

"But I still would not be keen on professional stewards. That way vendettas come up. If they [the present stewards] get it wrong, at least they get it wrong for the right reasons. They are not deliberately unfair. But, in the case of this horse, I don't think any reasonable person would have agreed with them."

Rain poised to ease way for Dubawi in QEII test

The elements are likely to come to the aid of Godolphin's Dubawi in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Newmarket tomorrow, for which six acceptors were declared yesterday.

The Prix Jacques le Marois winner has shown his best form on easy ground. "Rain is due to arrive tomorrow, with the prediction that we might get five millimetres," said the clerk of the course, Michael Prosser, who pronounced the going good yesterday.

Mullins Bay, Rakti, Sleeping Indian and Starcraft, stood their ground against Dubawi, who will have a Blatant as a pacemaker.

Six acceptors were declared for the card's other Group One event, the Fillies' Mile.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Choosy

(Haydock 2.00)

NB: Chigorin

(Haydock 3.35)