Henderson faces day of reckoning

Justice must be seen to be done for royal trainer in hearing over doping case

Because the air conditioning at its offices has broken down, the disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority has been meeting at those of its solicitors. But its members will still do well to conclude their business today in anything short of a muck sweat.

Not just because they expect to complete their deliberations over the fallout from the infamous "race-fixing" trial at the Old Bailey. This afternoon they have granted a personal hearing for pleas in mitigation from Nicky Henderson, who was last week found in breach of doping regulations in connection with a sample taken from a mare owned by the Queen. They will then have to settle the matter of a suitable punishment, though may not make their conclusions known until tomorrow. Their options range from a heavy fine to the suspension of his licence.

Needless to say, the case has attracted plenty of mischievous interest. Henderson is one of the most successful National Hunt trainers in history, a pillar of the racing Establishment. And the mortification he will have suffered has presumably been infinitely multiplied by the royal connection.

His predicament has prompted many observers to remind the BHA of its responsibilities. They must show that they treat all those under their jurisdiction with an identical sense of equity. That rules are rules, whether you are an Old Etonian training for the monarch, and a man with a peerless contemporary record at the Cheltenham Festival, or a relative nobody like Matt Gingell, who was recently given a two-year ban for "milkshaking".

All true enough. It is disingenuous to suggest parity between Gingell's offence, which amounted to systematic cheating, and this one. "Milkshaking" concerns the administration of sodium bicarbonate to delay muscle fatigue, and has been the subject of an overdue clampdown in American racing. Henderson's mare had been treated with anti-bleeding medication, a legitimate practice in the course of training, albeit a schoolboy error on the day of a race.

Yes, the most important thing today is that Henderson receives no special treatment. But that means precisely what it says. That means, critically, that the BHA does not concern itself with "being seen" to treat the Queen's trainer the same as anyone else's. If, on the merits of the case, Henderson deserves a fine, and no more, then give him a fine. And do not worry about what anyone else might conclude.

Those eagerly seeking evidence of "cosiness" should recognise that their own, rather cynical expectations may themselves present an uncomfortable test of moral courage for the BHA.

Another record-breaking performance from the phenomenal Rachel Alexandra last weekend only intensified the emotions – whether simple regret, or downright indignation – prompted by her owner's insular vow that she will avoid the "plastic" surface at Santa Anita when the Breeders' Cup returns there in November.

Though the 19¼-length margin of her success in the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont is placed in perspective by the fact that only two rivals dared to take her on, her real opposition came from the other great fillies who have won this race in the past. Sure enough, she coasted home in a record time for the race.

In the meantime, the cost of her owner's stance has been measured by the news that America's undefeated champion older mare, Zenyatta, is unlikely to go looking for Rachel Alexandra if she does not take up the Breeders' Cup challenge. Zenyatta's stunning performance in the Distaff at the meeting last year seemed to confirm her as an epoch-making talent among thoroughbred females. Now that another one has shown up, at the same time, it would be a crying shame should their paths never cross.

After watching Zenyatta extend her immaculate career to 11 at Hollywood Park last weekend, in perfect symmetry with Rachel Alexandra's performance on the East Coast, her owner confirmed that she would be staying in California in the build-up to another "home" Breeders' Cup. "We'd love to meet Rachel Alexandra, and I'm sorry she apparently isn't coming to the Breeders' Cup," Jerry Moss told The Blood Horse. "As owners, we plan for the Breeders' Cup. That is where championships are supposed to be resolved. My brain is fighting my heart on this, because I'd like to give Zenyatta every chance to remove any doubts about her place in history, and Rachel Alexandra would be a challenge. We'd like to meet her, but we don't want to swerve out of our programme, because we have the Breeders' Cup foremost in our sights."

Turf account: Chris McGrath


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