Racing: Curtain rises on Jockey Club show

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The Independent Online
LES MISERABLES continued its run in London yesterday, also the Woman In White, but the hottest ticket on Shaftesbury Avenue was at No 151, the new, gleaming premises of the Jockey Club.

At first glance, the appeal of the 7lb claimer Kristin Stubbs against a two-day suspension meted out by the Wolverhampton stewards was not the stuff of dramatic legend. Yet history was being made.

This was the first time since the Jockey Club was founded at the sniffing distance of Pall Mall in 1750, at the Star And Garter, that the gentlemen of the press had been allowed to sit in on a disciplinary hearing. Glasnost had arrived.

It was easy to feel divinely chosen as one of the nine figures of the Fourth Estate to be at this momentous point, like a traveller in the boat with George Washington, or among the crew of Apollo 13.

However, the court case itself was no cause celebre. There was nothing here of The Winslow Boy or Twelve Angry Men, rather the tale of The Bet Direct Live Football In Running Banded Stakes at Dunstall Park last month.

There was little of the Jockey Club caricature about the surroundings either. The Club have moved from their long-time base at Portman Square a mile to the north-east because it was becoming sad and decrepit. The building that is. No 151 is different altogether, strange-shaped vermillion seats in the reception and an impression of modernity everywhere.

Most alarming of all, there is no rear entrance through which inquiry combatants can leave to thwart the press. David Pipe, the old Club spokesman, must be turning in his mausoleum. It is another matter for the in-tray of the modern chief of damage limitation, John Maxse.

In the Shaftesbury hearing room there is no walnut panelling, wigs or gavel. It is all rather disappointing. The reality is beige carpeting, white walls and, in the absence of the mob clamouring for a jockey's head, the gentle hum of air conditioning.

But, here in the heart of theatreland, showtime remains. The experienced racecourse stewards Tim Bell, John Wallinger and Stephen Allday were yesterday asked to consider the events of 24 January at Dunstall Park.

For those determined that the Jockey Club remains little more than a Star Chamber of the privileged the portents were reassuring. All three of the adjudicators were middle-aged and spectacled and, especially damning, two of them wore pinkie rings.

There was repetitious video playing of a scrimmage, the like of which is witnessed every day on the sharp bends of our all-weather racecourses. The learned judges determined that the problems were caused neither by Stubbs nor her fellow jockey, Alan Daly, who was another contender for the chop. It was their opinion that it was accidental interference caused by a another runner, Silver Island, dropping back through the field.

The strange thing about this interpretation for the lampoonists was that it was wholly accurate. Everyone emerged happy, especially Stubbs, who had listened to Daly and fellow rider Joanna Badger be rude about her riding.

"Me and Jo are friends," she said. "They were just doing their jobs. What happens in inquiries is different." Then she was off to Oxford Street to go shopping with her mother Linda, the Malton trainer. Pagan Storm, the horse at the centre of one, will again be under her drivings at Wolverhampton on Sunday.

Ten days earlier, at the Midlands course, it had clearly been a race of high anxiety for the local stewards panel. Stubbs aside, they gave Adam Kirby, on the winner Pirouettes, a one-day ban for improper riding because of his use of the whip, while they also ruled that Paddy Mathers on Zahunda had interfered with Badger's mount Didoe and suspended him for two days.

On the most contentious of these issues, the Portman Square panel ruled that Antony Larkin, Caroline Wilson and Lord Annaly had got it wrong. In other circumstances yesterday, it would have been easy to think these three had wasted our time.