STEWARDS have defended their decision to reverse the placings of the Ladbrokes St Leger after deciding that first past the post Simple Verse hampered Bondi Beach in a frantic finish on Town Moor that saw just two-hundredths of a second separate the protagonists.
Jeers – and cheers – greeted the announcement following a protracted inquiry. Simple Verse’s owner, Sheikh Fahad, was stunned by the demotion while the filly’s trainer Ralph Beckett was incandescent. “One thing is certain, we will appeal this,” he said.
Simple Verse’s jockey, Andrea Atzeni, who thought he had won Doncaster’s showpiece race for a second successive year, was inconsolable and had to be comforted in the weighing room while Colm O’Donoghue, ironically Bondi Beach’s third-choice rider, said justice had been done.
Given the dramatic events two hours later when Epsom Derby hero Golden Horn kept the Irish Champion Stakes despite veering right and badly hampering Free Eagle after being spooked by the shadow of the Leopardstown grandstands, there will be calls for greater consistency in the application of the rules in racing.
Though it is relatively common for big race results in France and America to be overturned if minimal interference had been caused, it is a rare occurrence in Britain. It is the first disualification in Leger history since 1789.
However The Yorkshire Post understands that jockeys were recently warned that the rules would be applied more strictly after a number of races were determined by a ‘win at all costs’ riding style.
The controversy, watched by a record 30,454 racegoers, centred on two incidents in the home straight. Simple Verse, hemmed in behind runners, barged into Bondi Beach in order to gain daylight, and O’Donoghue’s mount appeared to lose momentum.
Both then hit the front in the final furlong as Storm The Stars, trained by Skipton-born William Haggas and the likely winner at one point, ran out of stamina – this was one race too many following a demanding campaign for the Epsom Derby third. Both horses veered into each other.
Yet, while neither jockey stopped riding, neither took corrective action.
The key point was the narrowness of the ‘winning’ margin – stewards concluded that Bondi Beach, beaten a head, would have won with a clear passage. In contrast, the placings of York’s Great Voltigeur Stakes were not reversed last month because Storm The Stars was a length clear of Bondi Beach at the winning post.
The scenario in Ireland was different. As a result of Frankie Dettori and Golden Horn badly hampering Free Eagle, Found sneaked through to finish runner-up. Because the filly had not been inconvenienced, and was a length in arrears, the result stood and John Gosden’s champion is now on course for a tilt at next month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Nevertheless, it was the culmination of an unsatisfactory weekend in which the decision to bring forward the start time of Ireland’s premier race meant riders like Dettori had to miss the St Leger.
It did not help that O’Donoghue was the third jockey to have been booked for Bondi Beach within 24 hours. First, Dettori’s services were secured for the horse, and then Godolphin’s retained rider William Buick, before O’Donoghue became available once his original mount Order Of St George was withdrawn on Friday afternoon.
Though Paul Barton, the British Horseracing Authority’s head of stewarding and stipendiary steward at Doncaster, is braced for an appeal, he believes the correct decision was made.
“We first had to decide whether there was interference, which there was,” he said. “The view that we took was, while the first piece of interference may not have cost Bondi Beach the race, the second incident then occurred and the combination of the two, in our opinion, improved Simple Verse’s position.
“Every single incident is different and we try and weigh up the evidence on the day. I think people understand our rules and how those rules work. When you have to make a difficult decision, someone has to make it and I think people have to understand it. Every incident I look at, I measure it against the guidelines that we have to ensure that we are making these decisions consistently and I believe we are.”
Atzeni took a three-day ban for careless riding while O’Donoghue was handed a two-day suspension for whip transgressions.
William Buick hailed Emotionless as “the real deal” after running away with the Group Two At The Races Champagne Stakes.