Chris McGrath: Ground is real poser for Duke not spurious question of pacemakers

Until now, the governors of British racing have made a perfectly good job of developing their own, institutional paranoia. They have hired ex-policemen who seem convinced that there are reds under all our beds, credulous men who believe that "inside information" suppurates at the heart of the sport. Anyone who understands the game, of course, knows that the only thing that saves such "information" from being utterly worthless is its provision of an enticing, marketable veneer to the hopelessly capricious behaviour of thoroughbreds.

At the moment, however, the McCarthys of the Turf are busy enforcing a childish education programme on the nation's racehorse trainers. Unsurprisingly, this is causing considerable irritation among the professionals, who might well consider that the process urgently needs to be reversed.

This week, meanwhile, in a comical gesture of fairness, the security department instructed staff at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) that they, too, must acknowledge their own potential to discover iniquitous advantages. Their cash bets are now limited to £20, and any win over £500 must be reported to their employers.

All in all, you would not think these people need any help in consolidating a culture of suspicion. Unbelievably, however, this week it seemed very much as though their hand was forced in the inane persecution of Aidan O'Brien and Colm O'Donoghue, who have been summoned to refute a charge of "team tactics" in Duke Of Marmalade's success at Newmarket a fortnight ago.

The raceday stewards saw nothing wrong in O'Donoghue's riding of the favourite's pacemaker, Red Rock Canyon, but a series of commentators subsequently begged to differ. In fairness, even the most sancti- monious were working with the BHA's own rules governing the use of pacemakers, which prohibit riders from any manoeuvre that favours another horse in the same ownership – even if it makes no difference to his own finishing position, or that of any rival.

This is perfectly ludicrous, of course. Any sensible observer will acknowledge the value of pacemakers, which are used by O'Brien, like everyone else, to maximise the chances of the race being won on merit. And when a pacemaker tires, his rider must obviously ensure he does not get in the way. It is not just po-faced, but ridiculous, for anyone to pretend that he should be indifferent to the position of his stablemate.

Equally clearly, he must take care not to impede another horse, but there are other rules that amply punish deliberate interference. As the Irish regulators wisely observed this week, there is no need for any rule against "team tactics" when you have others available – namely those concerning interference, running on your merits, and bringing the sport into disrepute. Yet the BHA, for some reason, has gone looking for trouble with this zero tolerance policy.

Unfortunately, this has enabled some pundits to take joyless exception to the way Ballydoyle deploys its pacemakers. It is not clear quite what they expected O'Donoghue to do at Newmarket, short of taking a sharp turn through the rails. Better still, perhaps he should overtly block Johnny Murtagh on the favourite, as a token of his extreme probity.

Much the best solution, O'Donoghue might well feel, would have been for his critics to "get a life". As it is, however, the BHA have painted themselves into a terribly awkward corner, and the most accomplished and professional stable in these islands will be justifiably outraged that its integrity is being formally challenged.

Funnily enough, the rematch between Duke Of Marmalade and New Approach at Leopardstown today has itself dovetailed the idiocies of those who discover sinister dimensions to every innocuous episode. Presumably, it was "inside information" that encouraged a client of Betfair to offer 3-1 against Duke Of Marmalade on Wednesday. Plainly somebody out there "knew" that he would not even be declared for the race, but Ballydoyle is always anxious to support the biggest all-aged race on Irish soil and, sure enough, he is an intended runner unless the conditions deteriorate unacceptably.

In the words of his trainer, Jim Bolger, New Approach was respectively too fresh and too rusty at either end of the Newmarket race. Not for the first time, he also looked rather inhibited on the fast ground, and he could prove a different horse in these conditions. Much as when he was beaten on firm going at the Curragh, before the Derby, he declined to give himself a hard race, and the intervening fortnight is going to have brought only one of these horses forward.

It proved misguided to expect New Approach to run as well at Newmarket, after an enforced break, as he did first time out in the Guineas. But in conditions potentially inimical to Duke Of Marmalade, he is given one more chance to prove himself an outstanding Derby winner.

It might seem foolhardy to make excuses for New Approach when his rival is so metronomic in his brilliance. Call it sophistry if you like. But that, after all, is central to the sport's appeal – this business that there is always more to a race than meets the eye. It is just that some people need to be reminded that this is actually a good thing.

Loco is sensible option on sand

The vile weather may cause the postponement of the day's biggest British prize – the Betfair Sprint Cup will go to Doncaster next week if Haydock fails its inspection – and has already made it impossible to bet on what would otherwise be a superb race for the Coolmore Matron Stakes at Leopardstown.

The sponsors contribute four fillies, notably Listen and You'resothrilling. Listen is proven on soft, but it is impossible to know what to expect after a long absence, while Halfway To Heaven, is untested in deep ground. She was fortunate at Goodwood to beat Lush Lashes, who ran her one bad race on heavy in the spring. Caribbean Sunset is thus the one filly whose fitness and aptitude in mud are proven.

Connections of Reverence (3.10) will be delighted if Haydock survives, but punters can find safer terrain on the all-weather at Kempton, where Square Eddie (next best 2.20) and Premio Loco (3.25) attract.

Three questions for Gerard Butler

The Newmarket trainer saddles Baharah against Lush Lashes in today's Matron Stakes.

1. What chance do you give Baharah at Leopardstown?

"She is a very good filly, and no mistake, and deserves a crack at a Group One prize. Unfortunately, this one looks exceptionally strong, so if she makes the frame I'll be thrilled. I'm concerned about testing ground, but a lot of American-bred horses don't mind a bit of juice underfoot. It makes for more of a grind, more like racing on dirt."

2. You made your name in Blewbury but moved to Newmarket this year. How are you settling in?

"It's the home of racing, and you see legends of the training profession at work every morning on the gallops. I probably should have come years ago, but I've no regrets and we're here now. Horses and trainer alike are finding their feet, and I'm off to the sales at Keeneland on Sunday in search of fresh blood."

3. You're a Manchester United fan with lots of experience in the Middle East. What did you make of football's craziest week?

"Football thinks it knows all about wealth but anyone in racing will tell you that the sheikhs can take things to a different level. I've been to Abu Dhabi and it's even more staggering than Dubai. It's going to interesting to see what happens at Manchester City. But just as you can see people spending lots of money in racing without success, it will all boil down to how things come together on the pitch. And, with Berbatov in red, somehow you know he's going to prove the real thoroughbred."

Chris McGrath

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea