O'Brien admits lesser charge in Dante dispute

Though optimism was growing for the imminent return of jump racing, its continued suspension due to the weather yesterday concentrated attention on one or two pieces of unfinished business on the Flat.

Seven months after the race, the saga over Aidan O'Brien's refusal to have Cape Blanco trotted out before officials for a second time, after his success in the Dante Stakes at York, finally neared a conclusion. The Ballydoyle trainer must wait until next week before discovering his punishment after admitting a charge of "acting in a manner prejudicial to the conduct of horse racing in Great Britain".

The resumption and conclusion of a protracted British Horseracing Authority hearing seems to have been assisted by a critical semantic adjustment during a four-month hiatus in the process. O'Brien had initially been accused of prejudicing the conduct "and/or good reputation" of the British sport. In effect, this potentially amounted to a charge of bringing it into disrepute, and as such seemed curiously inflammatory.

O'Brien, who was not present at York, had already acknowledged himself in breach of a rule against causing or encouraging an employee – in this instance, Pat Keating – to refuse instructions from the local stewards. Cape Blanco was foot-sore after the race and, having allowed him to be examined immediately, O'Brien was incensed when a further inspection was demanded at the racecourse stables. By that stage, the colt's bruised heel had been dressed and O'Brien considered the request by official veterinarians as "insane".

The deletion of that heavy-handed reference to prejudicing the "good reputation" of the British sport addressed something injurious to both sides of the case. O'Brien's name is no longer being quite so blackened; and the authorities reduce an apparent incompatibility between the perceived best interests of the British sport, and those of a particular Irish horse. It is to be hoped that the disciplinary panel now reciprocates this outbreak of common sense in resolving an appropriate penalty.

Back on home soil, O'Brien was celebrating another two winners for his son, Joseph, at Dundalk – ensuring a thrilling climax to a three-way race for the Irish apprentice jockeys' championship. O'Brien Jr now stands on 38 for the campaign, just one behind Gary Carroll and Ben Curtis, with one last meeting to come at Dundalk tomorrow night. O'Brien has thrown plenty into his son's title quest, suspecting that a growing physique may limit his longevity as a rider.

All-weather tracks such as the one at Dundalk have kept some kind of show on the road, but jumps fans are led to believe that a thaw will complete the work of frost blankets to allow some top-class racing at Cheltenham tomorrow and Saturday. The card scheduled for Huntingdon today has meanwhile been transferred to Sunday.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Royal Island (3.20 Wolverhampton) Better with each run following his return from a long absence, even while edging down the weights, and always tanking when coming good at Lingfield the other day. Can run off the same, career-low mark here.



Next Best

Satwa Gold (6.0 Kempton) Promised another step forward soon when lasting much longer on the bridle last time, and now 2lb below the mark he defied so readily over course and distance in the summer.



One to watch

Lockantanks (M Appleby) changed hands for just £500 back in the summer but then suggested himself a bargain for his new yard when coming a close third, and unlucky in running, at Wolverhampton last Saturday.



Where the money's going

Petit Robin is 9-1 from 14-1 with both Paddy Power and William Hill for the Keith Prowse Tingle Creek Chase, transferred to Cheltenham on Saturday.

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