Richard Forristal: Legal challenge undermines integrity
Stakeholders have to accept the authority of Turf Club to make critical decisions
Once again, then, day one at the Galway Festival will get under way almost as a sideshow to an unfolding circus in the big ring.
Five years ago, the best efforts of the Turf Club's chief executive Denis Egan to retrospectively deal with The Real Article debacle were thwarted by legal submissions that rendered his request for a formal review of the horse's infamous Tipperary defeat in vain on a technicality.
Now, having seen Pyromaniac's 42-ban upheld on appeal last week, it looks as though Tony Martin and the horse's owner, Maurice Regan of Newton Anner Stud, will pursue the matter further.
With Thursday's €300,000 Guinness Galway Hurdle falling by some distance the wrong side of Pyromaniac's 42-day exclusion, Martin has indicated that they will today seek a judicial review of the verdict in the High Court.
You will struggle to find a better illustration of why the Turf Club's appeals panels have previously seemed to roll over like servile lapdogs when it came to challenges of convictions under rule 212, which caters for horses that have been deemed not to have run on their merits.
This, in a nutshell, is a large part of the reason why the appeals procedure has routinely amounted to a benevolent redress process; there is always the threat of some form of legal action that might undermine the regulator's verdict by dint of a higher burden of proof being applied.
"Who would be a steward?" is a question often posed when the appeals panels turn over seemingly cast-iron guilty verdicts.
Well, ditto for the panels, which might ultimately be powerless to uphold the Turf Club's own rules because the financial clout of the sport's elite patrons enables them to wield a potent judicial weapon to which the regulator may ultimately be bound to acquiesce.
The decision of the Turf Club's appeal panel at last Thursday's hearing seemed to reflect a determination, as recently expressed by the Senior Steward Meta Osborne, to police the sport more effectively.
That will be a truly gargantuan task if those licensed and permitted to compete in the sport by the governing body fail to recognise its authority.
Sure, trainers should endeavour to utilise what is an imperfect and maybe even flawed handicapping system to best effect.
However, if you are going to live on the edge, at some stage protagonists must be prepared to accept the consequences if they are deemed to have stepped over the line. Otherwise, they should toe the line.
As it is, this promises to be yet another regrettable saga that ultimately serves to undermine the integrity of Irish racing and detract from what is actually happening out on the track.
Here's some of the other stuff that might hopefully generate intrigue over the course of the next seven days.
Trainer's title tweaked?
Last year, eight wins was enough for Willie Mullins to deny Dermot Weld a 29th trainers' title in 30 years at the Galway Races. Right? Wrong.
Weld struggled for his usual momentum, which brought into focus a points-based system that his previous prolificacy had rendered redundant.
With five firsts, Weld trained fewer winners than Mullins and Tony Martin (six), yet long lives the king.
There was an admission by officialdom that it was an unsatisfactory anomaly, so it will be interesting to see if it has been addressed.
Since saddling a record 17 winners in 2011, Weld's reign has become a little less undisputed. Martin and Mullins have, like many others, been lured by the enormous pots to target the festival more aggressively.
Weld has even drawn a blank in each of the 14 feature events held in 2014 and 2015. That's one hat-trick he won't want to complete.
New O'Brien on the block
When Aidan O'Brien was taking the training ranks by storm in the mid-1990s, he farmed Galway. He masterminded successive Plate triumphs with Life Of A Lord in 1995 and 1996, and then added the Hurdle with Toast The Spreece in 1997.
Now, just months after acquiring a licence, his talented 23-year-old son Joseph could be poised to launch a concerted assault on the week's main events. Amongst others, the Kilkenny-based O'Brien has leading Plate contenders in Carriganog and King Leon, with Plinth and Tigris River also potential players in the Hurdle. Expect to see plenty of him.
A welcome participant
A year ago, just months after the Wexford fall that left him wheelchair-bound, Robbie McNamara was a welcome visitor to Ballybrit.
Incredibly, he returns tonight as an active participant once again. He made a sensational start to his training career at Cork, so don't be surprised if he makes an impact here as well.
The odd fairytale
We should never take for granted the patronage of the likes of Michael O'Leary, JP McManus or Alan and Ann Potts, but that doesn't mean that we can't at the same time hope for a bit of romance.
In recent years, the elite have hoovered up the huge spoils now up for grabs in the Plate and Hurdle, and you have to go back to 2009 to find the last Plate winner (Ballyholland) not associated with one or other of the game's heavyweights.
The Hurdle bedlam of Moon Dice, Rebel Fitz and Missunited is a little fresher in the memory, but a similar Goliath-slaying feat would be welcome.
Notwithstanding the above aspiration, the increased quality of horse on duty at the festival is a welcome development.
The array of future stars to grace Ballybrit in recent years is phenomenal, be it the likes of Legatissimo on the Flat or Road To Riches over jumps. That such a tight, undulating track has become synonymous as a destination for future Grade One performers is a testament to the groundsmen at Galway.
For many, the pros now outweigh the cons, which wasn't always the case.
An emerging champion?
This time last year, Jack Kennedy had only been riding on the track a matter of months.
The former pony racing champion's prodigious status was already well established when he guided Clondaw Warrior to victory in the Friday feature for a certain WP Mullins, and his star has continued to soar skyward since.
Right now, the 17-year-old is nine clear in the jump jockeys' championship. Sure, it is early yet, but it would be a brave man that backs against him being crowned champion, however long it takes.
'Reel' keeps O'Brien on course for British title
Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore combined to secure the Ballydoyle incumbent his fourth King George VI & QE Stakes success with the heavily-backed Highland Reel.
In both of his previous Group One triumphs, the 13/8 favourite had been ridden aggressively, and a return to positive tactics were again the key to glory at Ascot.
It was a poor edition of a once-definitive middle-distance championship race, and Highland Reel was probably the best horse in the race regardless of the strategy deployed.
However, while the exceptional Moore deserved all the plaudits in executing another perfectly nuanced big-race steer, in the circumstances it was surprising to see him gifted such an easy lead.
Wings Of Desire didn't have the gears to chase when Frankie Dettori realised what was happening, but the Derby fourth fared best of the rest, keeping on to be second.
He and the winner, which could have the Breeders' Cup as its long-term target, will have something to offer in similar events in the months ahead, but the race lacked any real depth.
The win was Moore's 30th at the highest level for O'Brien, leaving him just one behind the trainer's son Joseph on the list of the stable's most successful Group One-winning riders.
Only Mick Kinane and Johnny Murtagh precede O'Brien on the roll of honour, but Moore could also do so by the end of the week.
At Goodwood, which gets under way tomorrow, his marquee mounts for O'Brien will include the likes of The Gurkha and Minding, so it could be another prolific few days for the elite firm.
Highland Reel's win will also go a long way to ensuring O'Brien of his fifth trainers' title in Britain, a distinction that he last achieved in 2008.
The £689,000 prize took his running tally to £3.8m, with a yawning £2m gap back to John Gosden on £1.8m. That's pretty much game over - in July.
Tweet of the weekend
Yes Galway! Now us single lads won't have to compete with the footballers or the hurlers for the shift during race week. #GAA #GalvClare
This heartfelt contribution by one of the members of the Paddy Power marketing team explains itself. A rising tide lifts all boats.
€1.9m Record prize fund up for grabs over the course of the next seven days at Galway, with Thursday's Guinness Galway Hurdle still the most valuable jumps race in the calendar at €300,000.