Falmouth Furore More Than Just A Neck

Richard Hannon has confirmed that the connections of Sky Lantern are to launch an appeal to get the result of Friday’s controversial Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket overturned. Of course the racing forums are still fulminating after the stewards upheld the original outcome following a lengthy enquiry at the course. Where money is involved, and there will be plenty who took a hefty hit as the Guineas winner was carried violently left across the track in losing by a neck to the John Gosden trained Elusive Kate, objectivity is often the first casualty. I had no such financial involvement but still greeted the decision with dismay, if little surprise. Contesting the judgement may yet turn out to be a futile gesture, but if it casts some light on a system which has become excessively biased in favour of the offender, it will have served a useful purpose.

If the action had taken place in France, where the elder filly had claimed both her previous Group One successes, there would have been scant debate. There, horses found guilty of interference are routinely placed behind their inconvenienced rival in the placings. For borderline cases this is often harsh, but at least it provides a certain clarity. In Suffolk, thanks to the Channel 4 cameras, we were allowed access to the jockeys’ evidence, if not the subsequent deliberations, and though Richard Hughes appeared to mount a strong case, the haste with which that case was dismissed suggests it was all a paper exercise. The panel flexed its muscles, handing a three day ban to William Buick for careless riding, but was toothless to address the real injustice. As the combatants were hosed down in the paddock, the paying public were left scratching their heads.

Ultimately, in the British jurisdiction, there has to be ‘satisfaction’, however that may be ascertained, that the wronged party would have won the race in other circumstances. Why? These were the circumstances on the day. Though it might seem as if Sky Lantern was being held by the winner, lacking the impressive turn of foot which made her one of the stars of Royal Ascot, this is surely irrelevant as she was being forced to run off a true line for a sustained period and twice received a crack in the face from the whip of the rider alongside. This intimidation must have affected her ability to keep her mind on the job. In addition, had she been able to stay straight it might not have mattered whether or not she was faster. Elusive Kate, who has a history of veering in this direction, probably ran an extra couple of lengths due to her waywardness; remember the final gap between them was officially no greater than a neck.

Now Buick executed canny tactics in attempting to make all the running, and Hughes might have switched to the other side if there were concerns over potential drifting, while it could just be that the grey has simply lorded it over an average crop of three years olds and was now finding it tougher in better company. Perhaps it was too soon after her previous assignment, or the ground wasn’t quite right. All fair observations but hardly relevant to the basic fact that we simply can’t know because the contest was defined by the interference. When Usain Bolt false started at the 2011 World Athletics Championships it is likely he would have won by a wider margin than the advantage he gained by doing so. This patent absurdity was not taken into account however since he broke the rules. Just as Elusive Kate did.

Despite the impression that horses could rugby tackle each other to the floor without affecting the result, there is a precedent, and a high profile one at that, for intervention. Jacqueline Quest was stripped of a classic on the Rowley Mile three years ago, the 1000 Guineas being handed to Special Duty after the pair duelled to a photograph in the closing stages. You can point out that their closeness as they flashed past the line made it a different case but the impediment was hardly as prolonged as that which we saw the other day. Cynics might suggest it is somewhat easier to disqualify a 66/1 outsider though viewing the altercation again it is hard to dispute that the correct call was made. This time, as Buick’s sheepish demeanour betrayed his concern, few expected a radical re-evaluation, with Betfair’s market strongly hinting at the status quo. We have come to expect nothing else, so jockeys are willing to take a few days on the sidelines if it assures them of their purse.

With the South African sprinter Shea Shea in attendance at the meeting, it only illustrates the global nature of the sport nowadays. It can’t be right that rules are interpreted in so many different ways from one place to another. The recent Godolphin doping controversy over the administration of substances which would have been legal elsewhere is one more case in point. We need a set of standards which will be adhered to by all, and which are understood by punters and non-speculating enthusiasts alike. You would think that the means for deciding the winner of a race would be a good place to start. As for Sky Lantern and Elusive Kate, and yes I do regard that as the appropriate order, we must hope they will clash again to put the issue to bed. They have separate entries at Goodwood, and the Falmouth escapade may now be subject to a long drawn-out process. However that transpires, there’ll continue to be plenty of chat in the meantime.

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