Bondi stripped of Leger 'win' on appeal
Aidan O'Brien has been denied a fifth St Leger win and Colm O'Donoghue a second English Classic of the year after an appeal against the stewards' decision to award Bondi Beach the race at Doncaster was upheld yesterday.
The Ralph Beckett-trained Simple Verse passed the post with a head to spare over Bondi Beach in the September 12 Group One. However, Andrea Atzeni had to force his way out of a pocket on the filly, which is owned by the Sheikh Fahad-led Qatar Racing.
In the process, she broadsided Bondi Beach, initially with some force two furlongs out and then to a lesser degree soon after. The stewards on the day concluded that Simple Verse improved her finishing position as a result of the interference, and reversed the placings.
The finding was deemed by some observers to be inconsistent with many similar cases in Britain, whereby the first past the post is effectively granted the benefit of the doubt.
Previous cases such as the 2014 Gold Cup, when Lord Windermere veered across On His Own but kept the race despite prevailing by just a short head, and the 2013 Falmouth Stakes, which saw Elusive Kate keep the race after doing likewise to the neck runner-up Sky Lantern, had set high-profile precedents.
However, as the Coolmore team found after a three-hour hearing yesterday, what the stewards giveth, a British Horseracing Authority appeals panel can taketh away.
While its report has yet to be published, that the worst incidence of interference took place so far out appears to have counted in Simple Verse's favour, with the second infringement likely to have been deemed insignificant in terms of the outcome. QC Graeme McPherson, acting on behalf of the Simple Verse team, added insult to injury by indicating that in, Bondi Beach, O'Donoghue had an unwilling partner.
"This is a horse that, bluntly, is reluctant to go past," McPherson said of the Galileo colt. Of the initial interference, he told the panel: "There is 440 yards from there to the line. The business end of the race is still ahead."
O'Donoghue, roundly praised for his concise contributions in the inquiry and the appeal, mused of the reversal: "I felt that on the day in Doncaster, the stewards made the right decision. The rules were broken and they called it. They've changed the decision again and that's racing."
O'Brien was similarly magnanimous. "I am delighted for Ralph Beckett and Sheikh Fahad on his first Classic win," he said. "We felt we had a fair hearing and some you win, some you lose. Colm did his best to give the horse a winning ride and conducted himself like the professional that he is. Colm lost a Classic, but he has got others and I'm sure he'll get more."
O'Brien also confirmed that Bondi Beach is now being prepared for a tilt at the Melbourne Cup on November 3.
Australian owner Lloyd Williams purchased shares in Bondi Beach, his Irish St Leger-winning stablemate Order Of St George and Kingfisher, and the trio are in quarantine at Ballydoyle, though that doesn't mean they will all travel. O'Brien's Cox Plate hope Highland Reel is also in quarantine ahead of a Group One that the all-conquering stable won last year with Adelaide.
Ryan Moore excelled in that particular success, and he will soon be back aboard O'Brien's big-race runners as he is expected to return from injury at Newmarket tomorrow. Moore has been sidelined with a neck injury since July but the famously low-key former champion began riding work for Michael Stoute in Newmarket yesterday.
Meanwhile, Moore's fellow former champion and Ballydoyle predecessor Kieren Fallon, 50, returns to action in Britain for a first time since May when he rides at Haydock tomorrow, having spent the last few months in America.