Racing Commentary: Carson rides his luck in the Classics: A brush with the danger zone highlights the perils for punters of inconsistent stewarding

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The Independent Online
'JOCKEYS in the danger zone,' a headline in the Racing Post informed us on Saturday morning. 'With nine days to go until the Derby, any suspension for more than two days will result in heartbreak.' At 4.00 that afternoon, it became clear Willie Carson must take the Life.

A furlong from home in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Carson, riding Mehthaaf, performed an overtaking manoeuvre which would have brought a blush to the cheeks of the bolshiest trucker. In moving out to pass Dancing Action, he knocked Relatively Special sideways, and as a result, Luca Cumani's filly appeared to brush Las Meninas. Once clear, Mehthaaf quickened impressively, beating Las Meninas by one and a half lengths. Relatively Special, who lost several lengths when bumped, ran on again to be another three parts away in third.

As Mehthaaf passed the post, very few observers doubted that an inquiry would be called. Since Carson's mount had arguably prevented Relatively Special finishing second, it was possible that the winner would be disqualified. At the very least, the stewards would want to watch the race from several angles to assess the degree of interference which had taken place. The officials, however, disagreed. 'Whatever interference happened we deemed minimal and the stewards were not going to change anything,' Richard Teevan, the senior stipendiary steward, said. No inquiry, end of story.

No-one wants to see a jockey suspended, particularly when he would miss the ride on one of the favourites for the Derby (Carson will partner Erhaab at Epsom). What drives punters to sobbing despair, though, is inconsistency. Though the Irish stewards will feel they owe no explanations to British backers, the failure at least to hold an inquiry at The Curragh on Saturday offers an excellent example of a frustrating, and frequent, problem.

Remember Pat Eddery's brush with the Beverley stewards back in April? Eddery missed a Classic ride, on Distant View in the 2,000 Guineas, when an inquiry found him guilty of careless riding in a maiden event. Most observers were astonished by the decision, and without doubt any contact between Eddery's mount and the runner-up was considerably less severe than the clout which Carson's gave to Relatively Special. Backers who were on the wrong side of both decisions could be forgiven for finding a hobby with less risk of a blood-pressure problem. Lion-taming springs to mind.

Punters who have ante-post slips for Erhaab will take comfort from the thought that, if his run of luck holds, Carson is a certainty at Epsom. Those who do not, though, are in need of further persuasion. Erhaab's walk in the market, which started last Thursday, continued over the weekend and Ladbrokes yesterday pushed him out to 7-2 from 3- 1, citing a general 'lack of interest' in John Dunlop's colt. Weigh Anchor was also on the slide, to 7-1 from 6-1, though Ian Balding, his trainer, reported that his runner is 'in good heart and doesn't seem to mind about the ground'.

Gloomy reports from Henry Cecil's gallops on Saturday morning implied that Bal Harbour, one of the trainer's three possible Derby runners, was not so much catching pigeons as providing them with a nesting place. Cecil dismissed the rumours yesterday, however, saying that while King's Theatre beat Bal Harbour comfortably at exercise, 'they were working over a mile and a furlong and are crying out for a mile and a half.' He added: 'King's Theatre is a certain runner at Epsom and given soft or good to soft ground he will run well. Bal Harbour and Opera Score, who has not worked since he won at Goodwood last week, will work on Wednesday and then we will make a decision about them.'

By then, easy going on Derby day could be a real possibility, and while Epsom drains unusually well, the current wet weather might also upset exercise plans if trainers' gallops become waterlogged.

Rumour and uncertainty will fire the ante-post market. Southwell, Carlisle, Ripon and Pontefract form the backbone of this week's programme, but away from the track it could be one of the most exciting of the year.

(Photograph omitted)

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