Racing: Piggott in pursuit of St Jovite

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A HIGH COURT judge yesterday decided that Christy Roche will not be on board when St Jovite goes to post as favourite for tomorrow's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Jim Bolger will today adjudicate on whether Lester Piggott should be Roche's replacement.

Roche's application for an injunction that would prevent the Irish Turf Club from imposing a 15- day riding ban was refused yesterday morning after four days of legal argument. The court had barely cleared before Piggott began to angle for the ride. Booked to ride Alhijaz for John Dunlop in the Prix Daphnis at Evry, he has freed himself from that arrangement and will now definitely be at Ascot.

Whether he will be on St Jovite is another matter. Bolger was still making his way back from the Keeneland Sales in Kentucky yesterday and Piggott, when asked if he would be partnering the Irish Derby winner, said: 'I don't know yet.' On returning to his stable last night Bolger made it clear that he will not be rushed into a decision and will not announce who will partner St Jovite until this afternoon.

Alternatives to 56-year-old Piggott, who excelled in the last of his seven King George victories on Teenoso in 1984, are thin on the ground. Of Bolger's own team of riders only his son-in-law, Kevin Manning, is available as his apprentice, Conor Everard, will also be serving a ban this weekend.

The memory of the ride that Manning gave Bolger's Arrikala when they managed to get trapped behind User Friendly in the Irish Oaks is still fresh in the mind and a jockey with more big-race experience may be preferred. Cash Asmussen would seem to be Piggott's main rival in that category. The colt's owner, Virginia Kraft Payson, may favour her fellow American who was rumoured to have been on standby for the ride had Roche missed the Irish Derby .

Willie Carson is certainly unavailable for the mount. Michael Stoute confirmed yesterday that the Scot, who has won the race four times, will take over from the suspended Pat Eddery on the second favourite, Saddlers' Hall.

Roche, however, will be no more than a bystander and must now serve the remaining 12 days of his suspension immediately. A further legal avenue is open to him in an application to the Supreme Court, but that would now appear unlikely to succeed.

'I am sick and stunned. I can hardly believe it,' Roche said after Judge Declan Costello ruled that none of the complaints raised by Roche's legal counsel constituted, 'any breach of natural justice'.

Roche has been embroiled in a court battle with the Irish Turf Club since they suspended him for an incident at Naas last month. He lost his appeal against the ban, but after serving three days on the sidelines, won an injunction. On Wednesday his counsel claimed that the original appeal hearing had been unfair.

But Judge Gillespie, refusing the application, ruled that the Turf Club appeal 'was a full and proper inquiry' and that the evidence of a stipendiary steward was 'not prejudicial' to Roche.

That ruling, according to the Turf Club's Cahir O'Sullivan, was 'a good decision for sport'. And not a bad one for Piggott either.

(Photograph omitted)

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