Just as this magazine was about to go to press, news came through that Simple Verse had been reinstated as the winner of the St Leger, after an appeal had succeeded in overturning the verdict of the Doncaster stewards. Not quite done and dusted, then.
A brief press conference held after the result was announced showed the Qatar Racing team to be pleased with the outcome, but far from jubilant. Their moment to celebrate Classic success on Town Moor had long since passed.
Most sporting stories are played out on the pitch, court or racecourse – this one started that way but ended in a drab central London office
The overriding emotion for Ralph Beckett, Andrea Atzeni, David Redvers and the absent Sheikh Fahad Al Thani appeared to be one of relief, in that a filly they believed had won on merit had now been recognised, officially, as the best horse on the day. Beckett stated that the 11 days between raceday and appeal were not particularly enjoyable, for him or any of the connections.
Most sporting stories are played out on the pitch, court or racecourse – this one started that way but ended in a drab central London office, with not a blade of grass in sight. Hardly ideal, whichever way you look at it.
Only last month I wrote that the riding rules in this country were inadequate, as disqualification was all but a distant prospect, referencing Bondi Beach’s luckless effort in the Great Voltigeur Stakes. Amazingly, the same horse was involved again in the St Leger and while initially it appeared he had gained handsome compensation for his York defeat, ultimately he suffered the same fate, that of finishing runner-up.
If I was confused by the riding rules after the Voltigeur, I’m baffled after the Leger appeal. Does anyone know, within the current framework, how to judge which horse is best? Surely the rulebook is there to explain things clearly – not muddy the waters.
One person who believes the current rules work fine, most of the time, is former Senior Steward Julian Richmond-Watson, who succeeded Richard Lancaster as Chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association earlier this year.
However, in his new guise, Richmond-Watson is not so concerned with stewarding matters. There are other priorities. The BHA has declared that it would like to see an extra 1,000 horses in training in the next five years, with an inevitable responsibility falling on to British breeders’ shoulders.
With the issue of small fields seemingly ever present, rather than hoping for a breeding revolution, perhaps the simple answer would be to cut fixtures. On this matter, Richmond-Watson takes a different stand to most.
“I would expand the fixture list,” he says.
“Then you would create real competition. Of course there should be a centralised programme for the major side of racing but beyond that I would allow racecourses to run more race meetings; then they would have to compete for the horses.
“There are lots of small-field races at the moment – and that is because the racecourses can just about live within this artificial umbrella so they let it happen. As an owner and breeder, do I mind if there are only three or four runners in a race? No. However the betting industry would and the racecourses would – then it becomes their problem to solve instead of us trying to control them.”
In this breeding bonanza of an issue, we also talk to leading consignor Lady Carolyn Warren and noted owner/breeder Kirsten Rausing, as well as Lady Bamford, who enjoyed Group 1 success this year in the Prix de Diane with Star Of Seville and was so narrowly denied in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot with Eagle Top.
In a superb interview with Chris McGrath, Lady Bamford explains when her passion for thoroughbreds began, how the results on track are the product of a tremendous team effort, and why she has never been afraid to follow her own path, in racing or any other endeavour.