THERE were two incidents over the three days at Cheltenham last weekend that made you wonder if the BHA stewards simply ‘getting in early’. And that is a tactic which may not be as wise as perhaps they intended.
There are grounds for thinking that an overreaction to some incidents is as bad, in creating negative publicity, as saying nothing and in some cases, perhaps not fair to the participants.
The first was the caution for Rachael Blackmore in continuing to jump the last fence and win the two-horse novice chase on Gin On Lime on Friday.
The mare was visibly unhurt, the veterinary office’s post-race examination “failed to reveal any abnormalities” yet she was cautioned to “take more time to access the welfare of her mount.”
Gin On Lime was also shown to be perfectly happy and sound the next morning by Henry de Bromhead’s staff.
Could the BHA not have waited to see if all was well instead of adding to the ‘debate’ on the Friday? Will we have a ‘warning’ after every bad mistake?
You sometimes fear that online comments can create mountains from molehills.
The initial reaction was what a great sit, what a recovery and what quick thinking to get the mare going again. And the reprimand by the stewards would not have happened in Ireland. Would there even be one if it was out in the country on Friday?
An amateur rider was suspended for continuing after a bad mistake at the Cheltenham meeting last year on a horse who was then fatally injured. But it was obviously injured after the mistake and the ban justified.
But horses suffer muscle injuries in normal racing. It happens to all athletes in competition.
Times have changed and many more safety and welfare checks are in place but think back to Rhyme N Reason’s recovery at Becher’s before winning the Grand National. Would that have been highlighted and criticised now?
And take an example of a hot favourite who makes a bad mistake but who still seems to be moving normally. Are we expecting a jockey to pull up, to be sure? Think of the outcry if it was then found that there was nothing wrong.
Look at Douvan’s Champion Chase in 2017 where he jumped poorly. “The Douvan bubble burst, and the writing was on the wall a long, long way from home, his jumping was strange” announced Nick Luck as they pulled up. This was a commentator spotting something amiss? Should Ruby have checked after the initial poor jump?
Look back at the bad mistake that Azertyioup made at the water against Moscow Flyer in the 2005 Champion Chase. That might well have caused pulled muscles.
The ban on remounting is easily implemented – it is black and white. But continuing after a bad mistake cannot be. What would have occurred if Gin And Lime had been trotted round the last fence and what precedent would that create?
Many of us were happy to trust the experienced rider - who could hardly have any desire to see her horse injured - gauge if the horse was moving okay. Remember Barry Geraghty sensed there was something amiss with Sprinter Sacre that day at Kempton when no one else suspected anything?
The second stewarding incident last week that raised an eyebrow was the two-day ban given to Bryony Frost for a manoeuvre on Yala Enki in the three-mile chase on Saturday. She was found to have moved “left towards the rail when insufficiently clear causing [Brian] Hughes to take a check and switch right”, and given a two-day ban. It was before the turn for home and did not look like Hughes was in any way keen to go on, so it caused little damage to his chances.
Was this a reaction to the comments in the Frost/Dunne case, where allegations that Bryony often failed to keep her mounts straight?
It definitely looked odd when you had a look at the Paddy Power Gold Cup and in virtually the same place on the course, Conor Brace on Paint The Dream made what looked like a deliberate attempt to keep Midnight Shadow ‘locked up’ on his inner coming to the turn into the straight.
Compare too what merited just a two-day ban for Nico de Boinville when he blatantly took Monalee’s ground in the 2019 Gold Cup coming down the hill.
Now at times, a quick reaction is good and changes following controversial incidents are necessary – chopping the two furlongs off the National Hunt Chase has made little difference. It just makes sure horses are less tired after an unpleasant race in 2019.
Former commentator Jim McGrath on Luck on Sunday asked – “was it just window dressing?” on the caution for Rachael and both incidents had a feel of ticking boxes. Premature intervention can do more harm than good.
If the thinking is ‘oh, here is something we should hide’, an urge to apologise before you have done anything wrong - then it may well be assumed you have done somethng to be ashamed of, and that’s not very wise in the long run.