Racing: King George jockeys left in limbo

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The Independent Online
'HORSE and rider represent a team,' Peter Kelly, counsel for Christy Roche, told Justice Declan O'Connell yesterday as part of the Irish jockey's attempt to have a 15- day suspension deferred. Punters are entitled to question that assertion, because with two days to run before the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes neither of the first two favourites has a partner, writes Paul Hayward.

If Roche is cleared to ride when judgment is delivered at 11am today he will take his place on St Jovite at Ascot on Saturday. According to Kelly, it is vital to the horse's chance that Roche is saved from the punishment handed out by the Irish Turf Club. 'St Jovite might be unplaced if anyone else rides him but might well win for Mr Roche,' Kelly told the hearing.

The deliberations over a jockey for Saddlers' Hall are less easy to fathom. The rumour yesterday was that his less-fancied stable companion, Rock Hopper, was not certain to participate, and that the Michael Stoute stable would switch Walter Swinburn to their main contender if Rock Hopper was indeed withdrawn.

In the absence of any enlightening pronouncement from Stoute or his staff, it was left to Joe Mercer, racing manager to Rock Hopper's owner, Maktoum Al Maktoum, to insist that their horse would take part. With Swinburn claimed by Sheikh Maktoum in the absence of Pat Eddery (who is suspended), the ride on Saddlers' Hall is almost certain to pass to Willie Carson.

If the omens of the Grand National are reliable Saddlers' Hall has won already. Three days before jump racing's most famous event, the Cheveley Park Stud made a prescient swoop for Party Politics, the eventual winner, and the news yesterday was that the same organistion have bought a 'sizeable interest' in Saddlers' Hall, who was shortened to 9-4 from 5-2 with Ladbrokes (St Jovite is evens from 5-4).

Whatever the outcome of the Christy Roche affair, it will leave a political chasm in the industry. If Roche wins his legal struggle, the Turf Club said yesterday, 'the reputation of Irish racing will be permanently damaged.' There is already much bitterness on both sides.

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