O'Brien called to 'team tactics' inquiry
Wednesday 03 September 2008
Perhaps they will find that the letter of the law has indeed been breached. But the decision yesterday to summon Aidan O'Brien to an inquiry, concerning possible breaches of their rules governing "team tactics", raises the disturbing prospect that the regulators of British racing may also view the spirit of the law as mean and petty.
It is possible, admittedly, to feel a measure of sympathy for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). They have been pestered by a series of commentators to address the riding of Red Rock Canyon, who ran in the Juddmonte International Stakes at Newmarket 10 days ago to guarantee the pace for his stablemate, Duke Of Marmalade.
In appearing to steer his mount out of the favourite's path, Colm O'Donoghue certainly did enough to goad those literalists who for some reason attach grave importance to the rule that prohibits a rider from any manoeuvre "in the interests of another horse in common ownership... whether or not such a manoeuvre caused interference, or caused his horse to fail to achieve its best possible placing".
Maybe a quiet word with O'Brien might have been in order, simply to ensure that he took care not to excite conspiracy theorists in future. Instead, however, the Ballydoyle stable finds its use of pacemakers formally impugned for the second time in two years.
When presented with a similar charge after the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, at Ascot in September 2006, O'Brien made an indignant, impassioned defence to the disciplinary panel, and was duly exonerated. That affair owed its spice to a petulant complaint originally made by Frankie Dettori, whose own sullen demeanour at the hearing doubtless contributed to the outcome as well. This time, however, no protest has been made by anyone involved in the race, and O'Brien and his patrons will be entitled to receive the charge as evidence of resentment – graceless if subconscious – of their extraordinary run of success in Britain.
The hearing is likely to be heard in the week beginning 22 September. Paul Struthers, the BHA spokesman, acknowledged that Duke Of Marmalade's rider, Johnny Murtagh, had contributed to their concerns when quoted as saying that he had told O'Donoghue to give him a passage through around four furlongs out.
"We are obviously conscious of the interest this will generate," Struthers said. "But having reviewed the video, and read comments attributed to Johnny Murtagh in the press, it was felt that a formal enquiry into the incident had to be held. This will ensure that the matter is considered thoroughly, fairly and openly.
"This is the first time we have reviewed a race for a possible breach of 'team tactics' since the rules changed in 2007 and we are satisfied that there has been no other race where an enquiry should have been held. I would also like to make clear that there is no possibility of the result of the Juddmonte International being affected."
It is encouraging that Struthers appeared to acknowledge that no credence is being given to those who have perceived sinister tactics in other big races won by Ballydoyle. But the fact that O'Brien has been ordered to London guarantees an unnecessarily excruciating footnote to a season of epic achievement.
As it happens, precisely the same horses will reprise their roles at Leopardstown on Saturday when Duke Of Marmalade will again be escorted by Red Rock Canyon in the Irish Champion Stakes. New Approach, the Derby winner, will reoppose after finishing third on his return from a lay-off at Newmarket.
O'Brien also hopes to run Henrythenavigator this weekend, but his participation in the Prix du Moulin on Sunday is menaced by the possibility of testing ground at Longchamp. Richard Hannon is alert to that possibility, and may run Paco Boy, who certainly deserves another crack at Group One company after settling consecutive Group Two prizes with striking acceleration this summer.
Hannon, also enjoying a brilliant season, won the nursery at Goodwood yesterday with Lethal Glaze, the 101st individual winner from his stable this year. But he envisaged some awkward domestic issues for Richard Hughes, his son-in-law, if the jockey is to keep the ride on Paco Boy. "His baby's being christened on Sunday," Hannon explained. "He said there's no mass, that he could fly out afterwards and then fly back for the party. I said: 'Yeah? You try it.' I think it's going to be World War Three."
Now that, compared with the storm in the BHA's teacup, is what you might call a proper ethical dilemma.
* Kenny Johnson was banned for seven days after the Sedgefield stewards found him guilty of making insufficient effort aboard Cadeaux Singer in the fifth race yesterday.
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