There were plenty of talking points to emerge from York’s Ebor meeting, not least the previously unbeaten Golden Horn’s first ever defeat, inflicted by 50-1 outsider Arabian Queen, bred and owned by Jeff Smith, who told Julian Muscat in last month’s magazine that breeding racehorses is essentially a game of luck. How many men in his situation would even have run their filly in that race, lauded as the best in the world on ratings? Sometimes, Jeff, you make your own luck.
One of the more controversial incidents involved the finish to the Great Voltigeur Stakes, a recognised trial for the St Leger, in which Storm The Stars defeated Bondi Beach by half a length. The replay showed the extent to which Storm The Stars had bumped and carried Bondi Beach across the Knavesmire, with jockey Pat Cosgrave failing to change his whip hand to correct the eventual winner.
The replay showed the extent to which
Storm The Stars had bumped and carried
Bondi Beach across the Knavesmire
The subsequent stewards’ enquiry, televised live on Channel 4, had both jockeys fighting their corner; Joseph O’Brien, eloquently, explained that the interference had cost his mount the race, while Pat Cosgrave simply stated that the best horse had won. The stewards went with the latter’s view – to the apparent displeasure of a sizeable chunk of the York crowd, who booed when the decision was announced – although they did hand Cosgrave a three-day ban for careless riding. And therein lies the problem.
We have a situation, highlighted in this prestigious event, whereby the stewards know that an offence has been committed in the pursuit of victory. Yet that victory will nearly always stand, with the punishment restricted to the rider, who, more often than not, will be happy to take his medicine, safe in the knowledge that he has delivered for his owner and trainer.
The horse that causes, and benefits from, the interference will not lose the race unless the margin of victory is so narrow as to force the benefit of doubt to go to the runner-up.
Claiming this encourages jockeys to adopt a ‘win at all costs’ mentality may be slightly wide of the mark, yet there is little incentive for staying within the rules. We certainly don’t want to follow the USA’s example – Secret Gesture’s recent demotion in the Beverly D Stakes was a joke – but unless the threat of disqualification is increased, we will continue to see such rides deciding the outcome of big races.
Steve Cauthen won plenty of big races in his time, in Britain and America, and this month will see the 30th anniversary of his St Leger triumph on Sheikh Mohammed’s Oh So Sharp, the last winner of the fillies’ Triple Crown, having also captured the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks in 1985.
Cauthen, who was a teenage star in his homeland thanks to his first Triple Crown achievement aboard the mighty Affirmed as an 18-year-old, is hopeful the British version for colts – last achieved by Nijinsky in 1970 – will one day see another victor, as its Atlantic cousin has this year.
“I’d leave the St Leger as it is,” Cauthen tells Tim Richards when asked whether Doncaster’s 1m6f132y contest should be replaced in the Triple Crown series by a race over 10f.
“If you change the St Leger you are taking away the opportunity for a horse to prove itself in an outstanding way. I know St Leger winners are not necessarily popular with breeders, but when a horse can prove he can do it over the three distances, he shows he has speed, stamina and courage, which make for a great thoroughbred.
“It’s a feat, albeit a very rare one, worth waiting for, as it was in the case of American Pharoah.”
Hugo Palmer may have the St Leger on the horizon for his top-class filly Covert Love, winner of the Irish Oaks this season and runner-up to Pleascach in the Yorkshire Oaks. The Newmarket handler talks to Julian Muscat about his path into training and why it was a move to Australia that really gave him the confidence to take out a licence.