Racing: Williamson fails to win Festival ban appeal: A day of mixed fortunes for two leading jockeys, who will view Cheltenham from very different vantage points

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The Independent Online
NORMAN WILLIAMSON lost his appeal yesterday against the four-day suspension which was imposed by the stewards at Doncaster last weekend. The decision confirming the ban, due to begin on Monday, means that two of the season's top five jockeys will miss next week's Cheltenham Festival, with Williamson joining Richard Dunwoody, the champion, in the grandstand.

The riders are suffering a similar penalty for very different crimes, however. Dunwoody's deliberate interference with Adrian Maguire's mount in a race at Nottingham was clear-cut, and correctly punished. Williamson, riding Cariboo Gold in a handicap hurdle at Doncaster on Saturday, crossed Attadale before the final flight, but any interference was marginal. Though Cariboo Gold was disqualified, most observers felt that the stewards were over-zealous in suspending Williamson for careless riding.

Not so the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Committee, which sided with the local stewards in deciding that Williamson had 'allowed his horse to drift right-handed over nine strides, causing interference, before taking reasonable steps to prevent that interference.'

Since it is the Club which issues his jockey's licence, Williamson was understandably reluctant to criticise the stewards, but he said that 'it is sad and annoying. It will be very hard to watch the races on TV.' However, Dave Roberts, Williamson's agent, did not feel similarly constrained. 'It's bad for racing and a total joke,' he said. 'It just shows what a bad state National Hunt racing is in.

'He's done nothing wrong and they've taken away his livelihood. What gives them the right? It's a decision which means that no jockey knows where he stands. They'll be getting bans now for their driving in the car park.'

Williamson had 10 definite bookings at the Festival, and as the fifth-placed rider in the jockeys' championship would have expected to pick up two or three more. His most promising engagements were on Monsieur Le Cure (Sun Alliance Chase), Flakey Dove (Champion Hurdle) and Docklands Express (Gold Cup). Events at Towcester later in the afternoon will not have improved Williamson's mood. Despite being booked for rides in the 3.20 and 3.50 races, he did not arrive after his hearing at the Jockey Club, which finished at lunchtime. Geoff Forster, the stewards' secretary, said: 'Portman Square will be following it up. I called London and was told that the hearing finished at 12.30, but we haven't been told why he didn't turn up.'

Almost inevitably, one of Williamson's two missed rides was a winner. Mick Fitzgerald came in for the ride on Sunbeam Talbot, who took the handicap chase at 14-1.

Richard Dunwoody's two- week suspension started yesterday, and Adrian Maguire, his rival for the jockeys' championship, marked the occasion with a treble from four rides at Wincanton. Maguire's first winner, appropriately, was Mr Geneaology, the horse which crashed through the wing of a hurdle and prompted Dunwoody's suspension.

Maguire, another of Dave Roberts's clients, is still without a ride in next week's Gold Cup, following the withdrawal of Barton Bank, the second favourite, on Wednesday. Roberts has narrowed down the list of possibilities to Miinnehoma, Chatam and Capability Brown, all trained by Martin Pipe, though in Williamson's absence, Docklands Express can presumably be added to the list.

Flashing Steel's participation in the Gold Cup will not be decided until next Wednesday. John Mulhern, who trains Ireland's only serious contender for the race, has a cough in his yard, and said yesterday that 'they all either have it or have had it apart from Flashing Steel and four others.'

There were no unexpected absentees yesterday when 16 five-day entries for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday were published.

THE CHAMPION HURDLE, Tuesday: Absalom's Lady, Flakey Dove, Fortune And Fame, Granville Again, Halkopous, High Baron, King Credo, Land Afar, Large Action, Merchant House, Mole Board, Morley Street, Muse, Oh So Risky, Shawiya, Valfinet.

(Photograph omitted)

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