Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Pyromaniac case to test Turf Club waters

Latest non-trier appeal will put regulator's pledge on 'valid' criticisms under microscope

Seventh Heaven, with Seamie Heffernan up, on the way to winning the Irish Oaks. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Seventh Heaven, with Seamie Heffernan up, on the way to winning the Irish Oaks. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

It will be interesting to see how the Turf Club's appeals body rules on the Pyromaniac "non-trier" case later this week.

Before and after similar cases in recent months, we observed how there was an inevitability about the various outcomes. The appeals panels were going through the motions.

All recent precedents pointed to connections of the likes of Bobbie's Diamond, Shantou Ed, Definite Earl and Noble Emperor having their sanctions quashed, which is what transpired.

No matter how bad a particular case looked, or if the local stewards seemed to have been bang to rights under any rational interpretation of the Turf Club's own rule book, a sense prevailed that the penalties would not stick. That is not how an effective regulator should function.

It is what it is, though, and the perception of the enforcer of the sport's rules as a benign entity with so little clout undermines the game's integrity. Period.

Such were the levels of exasperation in the wake of the Noble Emperor case that the Turf Club's Senior Steward Meta Osborne was prompted to respond to criticism of the regulator's contradictory methods.

On the one hand, we have some race day stewards and their stipendiary advisors seeking to police the game in keeping with the spirit and letter of the law.

On the other, we have a benevolent appeals system that ultimately undermines the stewards' endeavours.

Is it the case that seemingly rigorous stewarding is actually erroneous implementation of the rules, and that the appeals panels interpretations are correct? Or is it something else?


Is there a fear that, should an individual condemned under the non-triers rule take umbrage to being accused of wilfully preventing a horse from running on its merits, they might take legal action to defend their name?

It is possible, but, if that is the case, what is the point of the Turf Club? If it cannot implement its own rules, which are framed within the sport's confines and bear a lower "balance of probability" burden of proof than state law, is it dysfunctional?

If the Turf Club cannot regulate the individuals that it licences and permits to participate in the sport, is it in crisis? Remember, it was also left toiling by the Department of Agriculture in the steroid debacles involving John Hughes and Philip Fenton.

There has been lots of talk since then, followed by the obligatory "task force report" and a high-profile appointment of Dr Lynn Hillyer as head of the Anti-Doping Unit, but there is still nothing evidential to suggest that the Turf Club is any further ahead in the battle against drug cheats.

Likewise, Osborne, who is well respected within the industry, talked the talk in the aftermath of the Noble Emperor incident, and anecdotal stories emerged that the blunt media commentary had hit home in the Turf Club.

"Let me assure you that we take this criticism on board," Osborne told the industry paper the Irish Field at the time, "and we will be working hard over the coming weeks to address the many valid points raised.

"We are acutely conscious of our duty of care to Irish racing and of our responsibility to ensure that the sport in this country thrives to the benefit of all those who love it, as well as those who owe their livelihoods to it.

"We take that responsibility very seriously. Please be in no doubt that we will make such changes as are necessary to safeguard the future of Irish racing."

There was a suggestion that running and riding enquiries might be routinely referred to the Turf Club. Thus far, that hasn't changed anything, other than that, in the couple of incidents where it did take place, those investigated were exonerated amid less heightened scrutiny, having not been found guilty of anything in the first place.

Of course, being innocent until proven guilty is the cornerstone of any quasi-judicial system, but, to a large extent, race day stewards have hitherto been damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

It is difficult for them to have the required data to establish, even on the balance of probability, that a trainer has conspired to not run a horse on its merits.

If there is a perceived libel threat, corroboratory material, starting with but not limited to betting patterns, has to be brought to bear. Logistically, that isn't easy on the day of the event.

When news filtered through on Tuesday of the Killarney stewards' decision to fine Tony Martin €2,000, ban Patrick McGuigan for a week and suspend Pyromaniac from racing for 42 days, there was a feeling that the shadow boxing charade had begun all over again.

McGuigan made no perceptible effort to put his mount in the race, and anyone who backed the second favourite would have had a right to feel short-changed by a ride that looked woefully inept.

Martin, though, was always going to advocate an appeal, and why wouldn't he, given his analogous Bobbie's Diamond and Noble Emperor acquittals.

He knows how the system works, or at least how it has worked up until now. We'll soon find out if it remains the same, or if, as Osborne pledged, the Turf Club has made "such changes as are necessary to safeguard the future of Irish racing."

Song subdued but O'Brien still wins

Seamie Heffernan has only the Irish 2,000 Guineas left to conquer to complete the full set of four domestic Classics after Seventh Heaven ran out a convincing winner of Saturday's Irish Oaks.

The odds-on Even Song bombed, but Heffernan showcased his judgment by selecting Seventh Heaven above three other Ballydoyle contenders.

Well beaten in the Oaks, the 14/1 shot redoubled her Lingfield superiority over Architecture, with the Oaks runner-up's fellow raider Harlequeen taking third.

Of Aidan O'Brien's eight Group One triumphs to date this year, seven have now come courtesy of six different three-year-olds.

Geraghty suffers Market Rasen break

Barry Geraghty will miss the Galway Races after suffering a broken arm that could rule him out for at least two months.

He was riding Tom George's Cernunnos for boss JP McManus when they crashed at the final fence at Market Rasen on Saturday. His pain will have been promptly exacerbated yesterday, when Mark Walsh stepped in on the winning Tipperary spare, King Leon (11/4 jt-fav), for the in-form Joseph O'Brien.

Also successful there was Norman Lee's in-foal Supreme Vic (13/8 fav), which emulated her Killarney win for early champion-ship leader, Jack Kennedy.

Numbers game

5,000 Sterling value of the diamond pendant that Rachael Blackmore was awarded after executing a sublime waiting steer to plunder a Cartmel ladies' hurdle that was sponsored by a jeweller. Blackmore was riding Baby Jake for her boss John 'Shark' Hanlon on Saturday's card, which also saw Gordon Elliott plunder a double with Western Home and Eshtiaal.

Irish Independent

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