Racing: Roche ban still in the balance

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The Independent Online
WHILE IT has always been traditional for the season's major races to be preceded by trials, the ongoing case of Christy Roche's suspension is beginning to take things a little too far.

The jockey's pursuit of an injunction against a riding ban imposed by the Irish Turf Club - which would prevent him partnering St Jovite, the favourite, in Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes - was adjourned for a second time at Dublin's High Court yesterday, after Justice Declan Costello had spent almost two hours listening to representations from both sides. The hearing will resume at 2pm this afternoon, but punters and bookies alike will now take predictions of an imminent conclusion with cartloads of salt.

The origin of the case is an incident at Naas on 13 June, after which Roche was deemed guilty of improper riding and suspended for 15 days. The jockey lodged an appeal with the Turf Club, the hearing into which was delayed after St Jovite's trainer, Jim Bolger, threatened to withdraw his colt from the Irish Derby if Roche, his stable jockey, was not available to take the ride. Roche and St Jovite duly won the Classic by 12 lengths, but when his appeal was eventually heard on 7 July the original suspension was upheld.

Roche secured an interim injunction against the ban on 10 July, but that expired on Monday and he now needs an interlocutory injunction if he is to continue to avoid punishment. That would delay a court hearing for at least six months - by which time his services are unlikely to be in such urgent demand.

Peter Kelly, Roche's senior counsel, said in court yesterday that the circumstances of the ban are a 'departure from the basic principles of fair play.' He contended that the race in question had been filmed by cameras at three different locations but the film used in evidence consisted of edited extracts, and denied that the injunction application was simply designed to ensure Roche's participation in the King George.

Kelly also replied to a reference by counsel for the Turf Club to the fact that Pat Eddery has not appealed against a ban which rules him out of Saturday's race. 'I'm sure that if Pat Eddery felt hard done by he would have appealed too,' Kelly said. 'Just because my client decides to go to court, that should not reflect badly upon him.'

On Monday, Roche's team unsuccessfully attempted to have the hearing postponed until next week. Yesterday, they approached the Supreme Court with the same request and although it was again turned down, they could return to the higher authority if the case goes against them today.

The lack of a definite jockey booking against the favourite understandably continued to suffocate the King George ante-post market yesterday, although Ladbrokes trimmed Sapience to 12- 1 from 14-1 and extended Jeune to 20-1 from 16-1. The latter is another colt for whom a rider has yet to be confirmed, though an announcement may well be forthcoming today. Jeune's trainer, Geoff Wragg, is also concerned about the going at Ascot, after Monday night's torrential storms turned the track at the Berkshire course to good to soft. Though Jeune will run whatever the state of the ground, and yesterday was a good drying day, Wragg's colt has shown all his best form on a fast surface.

With Saturday's race shrouded in uncertainty, and cards at Folkestone and Edinburgh providing precious little competition, punters opted instead for the novel experience of betting on Doncaster's Sunday card. Coral reported several moves in the day's opening race, christened, with an awesome lack of imagination, the Coral First Sunday Race, in which Stack Rock is now the 5-1 favourite (from 8-1). The firm then bet: 13-2 Gymcrak Premiere (from 8-1), 7-1 Deprecator (from 6-1), 8-1 Go Executive and High Low, 10-1 others.

Ladbrokes, whose initial reaction to the idea of a Sunday meeting while their shops were shut fell well short of unbridled enthusiasm, have now decided to join in the fun, and yesterday opened a book on two of the card's other handicaps. In the Tripleprint Handicap, over an extended 10 furlongs, they offer: 8-1 Drummer Hicks, Scandalmonger and Scrutineer, 11-1 Bayaireg, 12-1 bar. In the Virgin Atlantic Flyer Handicap, a five-and-a-half furlong sprint, the odds are: 12-1 Densben, Misdemeanour's Girl and Seamere, 14-1 Educated Pet and Playful Poet, 16-1 bar.

The day of rest it may be, but clearly picking the winners will be no less demanding.

(Photograph omitted)