Wobbles over for Gosden

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The Independent Online
As John Gosden answered questions after Saturday's St Leger a wasp alighted in the fold of his trilby. Even if the visitor had winged from the felt, banked over the brim, and stung the Newmarket trainer straight in the eyeball it would not have caused him the sort of pain he has endured at another time this season.

Following eight years in racing's principality at Stanley House as Sheikh Mohammed's main trainer there have been those more than willing to suggest that Gosden is an under-achiever. Some even put their thoughts into print this year and announced that John Harry Martin Gosden was not up to servicing the personal string of the globe's most powerful player.

Gosden is a big man, a patrician figure who would not look out of place in either a Cambridge Eight or the collegiate discus circle (both of which he actually accomplished in his scholastic career). His voice belongs in a pulpit and he has the self-composure of someone who would not shed a tear if their gerbil died. Some may think you could not mark him with a pick, but Gosden has been hurt, and hurt badly, by the criticism. "It's been a long wait," Gosden said immediately after Shantou had provided him with his first British Classic. "If you beat on the door long enough you'll knock it down. Everyone is human so that criticism did get to me."

As Newmarket greeted another morning yesterday, Gosden was in combative mood. "My reaction to the criticism has been two-fold," he said, "firstly, you can't put a saddle on a pedigree and what may look nice in Horses In Training may not look nice as an athlete. I'm aware of the pressure of working for Sheikh Mohammed, but if I carried that baggage around every day I would crack up.

"The home-bred operation is only just getting into gear and what people don't realise is that it took the Aga Khan's 50 years to come right. You don't set these things up overnight. We have been a little bit frustrated though that we haven't been able to come up with a stallion.

"The other part that I wasn't pleased about was that the criticism was very biased. Since I've been back we've won over 650 races, 60 of them Group races, including 13 or 14 Group Ones. But you wait in the long grass and eventually you get your critics."

Shantou himself was in grand order after his assignment. "He licked his manger out and gave a buck and a kick this morning," Gosden reported. The son of Alleged is to stay in training and he may just run again this year if the ground is soft enough to allow participaton in the Prix Royal Oak (French St Leger). Such a mission would surely have been unthought of last year when Shantou was diagnosed as a "wobbler", a horse with a pinched spinal chord. At that point the colt had the carriage of those who make friends with lamp-posts after a night out.

That problem was solved, but Shantou has never really been out of the remedial class. "He's a character all right," Gosden said, "he doesn't go anywhere on the Heath, he goes his own place with a hack and one other horse. He doesn't like going with the string."

Much of this work is conducted by Bob Herrick, the lad who is by now used to crushing daisies with his bottom on Newmarket's gallops. "Bob still gets dumped by the horse," Gosden said. "He can really throw someone off. Bob's a judo expert and that helps him handle the horse."

Bob was a largely forgotten figure on Saturday as Lanfranco Dettori, the winning jockey, threw his goggles into the crowd, threw kisses in a similar direction and himself into the arms of Sheikh Mohammed. Gosden pressed so many palms that the Duke of Edinburgh's Commonwealth record came under threat. It was not the only thing.

Before the Classic, Oscar Urbina, Mons's rider, had clearly prepared a response for his television interview with Brough Scott. Conversation went thus: BS: "Are you looking forward to the race?", OU: "Of course"; BS: "Will Mons run well?", OU: "Of course"; BS: "What do you think of Tony Blair's altercation with the TUC?", OU: "Of course".

Some of those who rode against the young Spaniard in the Leger would have happily added a final "f" to the first word of his favourite phrase. After Mons had steered a somewhat erratic passage, Urbina met the sort of weighing-room welcome from Richard Hills and John Carroll that his countrymen usually get from Cornishmen when they come calling in their trawlers.

The worst-treated jockeys, however, were Dettori and Pat Eddery, on the runner-up, Dushyantor, who were penalised for their use of the whip. If Dettori, who was also banned for his ride on another narrow Classic winner, Mark Of Esteem, had not used his whip on either occasion, the form book would have been rewritten. The tome that deserves rewriting is racing's rule book. Jockeys should be banned only if they are beating horses which are not responding. If a local steward cannot tell the difference he should be returned to the Chesterfield of his gentlemen's club or the grouse moor.

Gosden was appalled by the treatment to his aide de camp. "There is a fatal flaw in that rule," he said. "We're not talking about butchers or rough-house riders here, these are professionals and top men. Frankie only hits horses in the backhand position and not the forehand, bringing the whip from over his head. He has never ridden a horse for me that has come home and sulked."

Gosden advocates allowing stewards more discretion in their deliberations, but the lessons of the past suggest the honourable brigade does not function too brightly when wrestling with a more complicated option. It is rather like giving a donkey a road map instead of a dangling carrot and expecting the beast to find its location.