Monthly Archives: September 2015

Time for a change in Stewards’ Enquiries after Colm’s sleight of hand

legerThe length of the deliberations, and the reactions of some at the Simple Verse appeal being upheld illustrate just how accomplished Colm O’Donoghue was in pulling off an equine sleight of hand on the track, and then a compelling argument with which to bolster it in the stewards’ room.

Let’s be clear on one thing: O’Donoghue was the aggressor from the outset. I’d be the last to dispute that a jockey is entitled to block the path of a rival by not moving out of the way, but that is entirely different from forcing your mount physically onto that rival. O’Donoghue did this in a relatively minor way – Atzeni described it as ‘leaning’ – the footage shows he leant on her and came back off her (bumped her) and as O’Donoghue brought her back in for a second attempt, he met the filly edging out as she tried to regain her balance after the first bump. Bondi Beach, on the way in to intimidate her for the second time, bounced off her, making Atzeni look the aggressor.  And here was the sleight of hand – everybody, (me too, initially) looked at the effect of that bump rather than the cause. The cause was O’Donoghue’s deliberate and consistent aggression.

But O’Donoghue played on the effect of the bump, burnishing it with a convincing performance in the stewards’ room. There was little obvious resistance to that performance by Atzeni, perhaps because he knew the reality of the situation and could not believe that the stewards would not see that reality. But they did not, and the combination of O’Donoghue’s good luck in bouncing off the filly, and the meek acceptance of his evidence by the stewards, saw a serious injustice take place.

If you doubt O’Donoghue’s guilt here, have a look at what he does in the Prix Niel 24 hours after the Leger (you’ll see it in that video clip in my previous post). And look, too, at how determined he was in the Leger to keep trying to intimidate Simple Verse throughout the last two furlongs. Atzeni, punters, bookmakers, connections were hit by the unfortunate combination of Mr Nice Guy meets Mr Win at all Costs.

But that battle should have been refereed by the Doncaster stewards, and they failed, in my opinion, as much because of human nature as anything else. They were faced not only with what looked at first glance a hefty bump caused by the filly, but in O’Donoghue, a convincing advocate whose personality dominated the room, not just the questioning. When both jockeys leave that room, here is what must be going through the minds of those stewards, even if it was subliminal:

‘Many thousands of viewers just saw the runner-up take a hefty bump, then his jockey offer a very impressive case, compared with Atzeni; they’ll think us incompetent if we don’t change the result’.

They took very little time after hearing the evidence in declaring the result, doing a serious disservice to racing in the process. How long did the appeal panel deliberate? The film evidence should have been examined at Doncaster from every angle and at whatever length necessary, and with no consideration given to jockey evidence.

It’s time the TV cameras were barred from the stewards’ room: it’s fine entertainment for those at home – not so much for those whose livelihoods depend on a steward’s decision.

Also, with both sides claiming that jockey evidence has no influence on the outcome (really?), let’s stop interviewing jockeys for these enquiries. The stewards have plenty expert help and multiple angles on the footage.

This debacle will surely bring forward the advent of a centralised panel, hopefully, minus any jockey evidence.

What Andrea Atzeni should have said to the stewards

legerStraight after the race I thought it was a shocking decision, but having watched the ATR footage, here’s what I think Andrea Atzeni should have said in the stewards’ room:

“We were both pushing along from three out and my filly came onto the bridle approaching the two pole when Bondi Beach was still under pressure. I’ve prepared her for a gap opening, and just as it does, Colm comes in and bumps me, but he comes off worse and is knocked wide, opening the gap properly. I come out into that gap, but Colm is determined to push me back in and, as you will see from his riding, pulling hard on his inside rein, most of his bodyweight to that side, whip in his right hand, he is determined to impede me, to the detriment of getting his own horse balanced again. Had he felt his colt was going to win, he would have got him balanced after bumping me, but he knew mine was travelling much the stronger, so he tried, until a hundred yards out to lean on and intimidate my filly. It was his misfortune that she was more than up to the task of fending him off.”

Hindsight is wonderful, I know, but watch the race again, and I think you will see exactly what I mean. I suspect Andrea has been so laid back in the stewards’ room because he has assumed that these professionals could work out for themselves exactly what happened.

(For clarity, the voiceover on the footage is not mine. I came across this video on The Racing Forum. It was originally posted on YouTube by ‘Bob Danger’)

I recommend taking 7/4 with Paddy Power that the filly gets this on appeal.