Friday 15 December 2017

Time to weigh up cost of O'Brien's predicament

Last year's champion apprentices, Ben Curtis, Gary Carroll and Joseph O'Brien, have all made bright starts to the new campaign.

Already, Curtis has ridden six winners, Carroll five and O'Brien four -- fine tallies at this early stage.

However, unlike the former duo, O'Brien, who stands nearly 6ft tall, is not naturally built for the game, and the regularity with which he is permitted to carry overweight on horses merits discussion.

Given the 17-year-old's talent, his predicament is admittedly worthy of some sympathy.

Nonetheless, he is a young professional who operates on a public platform in a highly competitive environment, so sympathy for his lot shouldn't come at the expense of reasonable analysis.

The current situation goes like this: Joseph O'Brien has ridden in 39 races in Ireland this season. On nine occasions, or 23pc of the time, he has carried overweight, thus creating a state of affairs where a race takes on a shape other than what is presented in the race card.

Two of those nine rides resulted in a winner, including Empowering in the 1,000 Guineas Trial, so there are times when the transgression made no material difference to the result. In some instances, though, it does.

Three of the remaining seven rides have finished in the first four, the latest of which was She's A Queen's defeat at Dundalk on Friday. The filly was beaten a length and a quarter, when Joseph failed to claim his 3lb allowance off 9st.

According to the British Horseracing Authority guidelines, one length typically equates to 2lbs in races over a mile. If you apply that theory, then She's A Queen, on which Joseph O'Brien rode a perfect race, might well have won.

Of course, she might not have, but the point is that there is a duty on O'Brien, his father Aidan -- to whom he is indentured -- and the game's regulator to ensure that punters are not being misled on a routine basis.

Indeed, the role of the stewards in relation to O'Brien's plight is curious.

When the apprentice was set to carry 4lbs over on Sing Softly last December and 5lbs over on Apache in March, the stewards prevented him from taking the mounts on the basis that "no very exceptional circumstances" were put forward for his doing so.

Which makes you wonder what's so exceptional about all the other circumstances?

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