Comment - Davy Russell must explain Tramore horse punch
Top rider's jab to head of Kings Dolly does racing's image no favours
When Ana O'Brien was nearly paralysed at Killarney, the racing world awaiting news with a sickening sense of foreboding, it was all but lost in the story that her mount, Druids Cross, was put down.
So it should have been, even if the occurrence of a horse being killed by human hands after racing at the behest of other humans will never rest easily. Many animal rights enthusiasts, though, seem to view life in a manner that betrays ignorance of realities of the wild.
This came to mind when footage captured Davy Russell appearing to punch or jab, if you will, the Roger McGrath-trained Kings Dolly at Tramore on Friday. The mare approached the 'show' hurdle - an obstacle jockeys show their horses before a race - a little exuberantly, coming to a halt.
For a reason best known to the rider, who opted not to comment when contacted on Saturday, Russell lost his cool. The optics were not good and - while punching a horse is not the same as punching a human, just like punching a human is not the same as punching a mouse - plenty reacted caustically on Twitter.
Others, notably some in racing, saw it differently. "Far too much made of it, nobody was killed," growled one leading figure.
The Turf Club seemingly has no precedent. In 2008, rider Jeremy Rose struck his mount in the head with a whip and got six months at Delaware in the US. Russell will get nothing like this but no jockey should be allowed to punch a horse in the head, clearly not in self-defence. What the Turf Club does will set a precedent.
In July, Shane Foley got a seven-day ban after hitting his mount twice behind the saddle prior to entering the stalls. This was dropped on appeal to five, the same ban Sean Levey got at Kempton in 2014 after punching a steed which had unseated him. Anything less for Russell is a dubious message.
The video of the incident quickly went viral on the web. Russell is one of our biggest names. What he did was not apparently so much a corrective measure but a moment of petulance at the expense of a mare which did not seem especially recalcitrant - for which he should be punished and remorseful. If he is not, he should explain why.
And as Clonmel showed last September, when he lost the plot in front of the stewards, Russell has a kink or two - a bit like Austin Gleeson, mixing magic with madness. Unlike Gleeson, he will likely get a suspension.
Keane makes bold statement
On day one of the season, when Ana O'Brien rode a double, I was on the Naas Road home, chatting to my chauffeur about the apprentice title.
We postulated that the 9/1 about Ana winning her first crown was worth speculating shekels on. The theory was straightforward: if she got enough backing from dad Aidan, she should win it; and brother Donnacha had taken the gong last year and may turn pro.
Typically, the price collapsed. By the time I got to backing her, the bookmaker was only laying 9/4 and even at that would only take €100.
As I told my buddies at the time, the bet could only fail if Ana got injured. Donnacha duly turned pro and Ana's season lasted into July 18, when she suffered a fall at Killarney that rendered thoughts of an ante-post bet obsolete.
When Galway came around, another colleague - Niall Cronin of the Herald - spoke about Donnacha as a bet for the senior title at 25/1. He trailed Colin Keane by around 25, yet Cronin could see that Ana's brother may pick up a lot of her rides and get backing from his dad.
Cronin was not far off and suddenly what seemed a two-horse duel between Pat Smullen, the regular winner, and Colin Keane became something rather deeper. Keane has had such a bountiful campaign that he has traded as short as 4/11 to win the title, yet it was notable and timely that his boss Ger Lyons said last week that the jockey was "in at least third place regarding fire-power".
Yesterday, Aidan O'Brien downplayed his son's chance and Dermot Weld said Smullen was up against it. One of them has to win!
Keane's title bid could not be deemed to have come from out of the blue, as he came second to Smullen last term, but it would hinge on the latter's boss Weld having a quiet year, which he has so far. Keane works his butt off to defy the odds.
He has ridden for an incredible 73 different trainers in Ireland this season. After one mount at the Curragh on Saturday, he did something common in Britain but generally not feasible here: he dashed down the motorway to another meeting, Tramore, where he had a double.
"The title is a thing both Colin and I desperately desire and we'll be fighting tooth and nail to attain that," said his agent Ruaidhri Tierney. "We are fully aware what a Trojan effort will be needed, with the calibre of competitors we face and with their powerful backing.
"Colin is a pleasure to deal with. He largely lets me do my job and vice versa. I think what makes Colin such a talented rider is obviously his strength and tactical astuteness, but also his laid-back, almost phlegmatic character.
"Pressure doesn't come into the equation. Gaps appear and races tend to fall favourably more often than not for him. This, I think, is one common denominator with all high-class riders."
Keane hit two more at the Curragh yesterday, stretching 10 from Smullen and 19 beyond O'Brien. He has had roughly double the rides of O'Brien, but then a title assault only recently became a realistic option for the latter.
The problem Keane faces is that Weld is now getting going, which will automatically improve Smullen's prospects, and Smullen has had more rides than his main rival. O'Brien, however, is the dark one.
The young pilot's hit-rate (22pc) is far ahead of his rivals and it is clear of late that he has been preferred to Seamus Heffernan in some races in which Ballydoyle is double-handed. If Keane is laid-back, so is O'Brien, but they face a terrier of a rival in Smullen, who will be going all-out to stay at the top of his profession.
O'Brien may have a fair hill to climb but, like Willie Mullins being around €400,000 in prize-money in arrears going into the Punchestown Festival, it sounds steeper than it is. He has the runaway leader in the trainers' title backing him, as well as his brother Joseph, who had more winners than Weld this season until Saturday.
The remarkable thing about Keane is he is 22 years of age. It seems a long time since he came to prominence riding the odd one for his dad Ger at Dundalk; even then, one could tell that he had something.
To have Lyons as a mentor has clearly served him well, but there is no getting away from how popular he is with other trainers, and it will be fascinating to see where his long-term future is. He is an exceptional judge of pace, a man to whom panic is anathema.
The beauty of the Mullins-Gordon Elliott war this year was that nobody expected it. Nobody forecast this either and it will be captivating between now and the final meeting of the season on October 28.
Ride of the week
A dream start to Cian MacRedmond's career as he guided home Sweetest Taboo on Saturday at the Curragh, his first ride. Amazing from the 16-year-old, likely too big long-term for the Flat.
Quote of the week
"It's amazing with what he's been through to even be here. They gave him a 10pc chance of racing again. He had an infection in his hind suspensory and they had to split his suspensory to wash it out and get the infection out; they even flew special maggots over from England to fight the infection."
Fozzy Stack after Alexios Komnenos won the big race on Thursday at Leopardstown.
Gamble of the week
Dermot Weld has a nice filly in Chiara Luna, backed from 11/4 the night before into 4/5 at Leopardstown on Thursday evening. The War Front filly pulled away at the end under Pat Smullen.
Tweet of the week
Justin O'Hanlon (@rpdarkhorse)
Well, I think doubt no longer comes into it. @_Davy_Russel_ must die. Nothing short of that could satisfy Twitter outrage.
Journalist Justin O'Hanlon reacts to the reaction on Twitter.