An earlier attempt was made at this column but it strayed away from the originally intended subject matter and morphed into something else. Namely, the multiplicity of problems which are presently obvious with regard to the application of disciplinary processes within the #GAA.
However, it was actually misgivings about how problematic events in another sport – horse racing – were dealt with which originally led to that particular round of keyboard tapping. Whilst also affirming a long held belief that the administration of justice – and that’s meant purely in a sporting sense – and happiness often don’t mix.
In the past temptation would have been to feel, often with ample justification, that Irish racing protagonists competing in the land of our nearest neighbours got the rough end of the stick from the stewards over there. To the extent that – and one is hardly alone in this – when an Irish horse/trainer/rider was under scrutiny over there, judgement was expected to fall against them.
Nor, I suspect, is it a solo run to feel utterly confused and bewildered by recent events concerning the English St Ledger at Doncaster and, indeed, the apparent disquiet which, briefly at least, engulfed the second incarnation of the Irish Champions Weekend. Of course, an extra wrap of intrigue was added to the contentious mess as Sheikh Fahad of Qatar Racing was centrally involved in both.
So, where to begin? Well, and this hack may be completely alone here, but it is, after all, a matter of opinions, my initial reaction having viewed the race in real time was that the interference – which in fairness was obvious – had in fact been caused by Aidan O’Brien’s horse, Bondi Beach. Thus, my honest inclination was that Simple Verse, as victor, would be unaffected but that the Ballydoyle colt may be disqualified from the placings.
That said, the stewards on duty on the day were obviously won over by the persuasiveness, clarity and conviction of the case for the prosecution presented by Colm O’Donoghue. As was this corner when the footage of the investigation was viewed thanks to the Channel 4 cameras being present at same. Whether that’s right or not is an argument for another day.
It was always obvious though that the aggrieved would seek redress via another forum. What was in one way surprising was that the BHA opted to amend the initial post race adjudication. Does that not, in some way at least, undermine the judgement and authority of the stewardship in control on the day?
As was said at the outset of this piece, a go was made at this production previously but something else took over. Simply as the same concept applies to both stories. As much as the disciplinary structures within the GAA require amendment, the reasoning behind many steward’s decisions in racing – particularly in England – surely wouldn’t suffer unduly from a review. More than that, there was a sense that those in control of racing at the very least bordering on biting the hand which fed them. Something they would presumably stretch sinus to avid. Particularly the already existent kerfuffle regarding the scheduling of events at Leopardstown and The Curragh and all that entailed.
Regarding the pertinent case in this instance, mind you, no matter what spin may be affixed to it, the pivotal component to at least some degree had to be the stature of the central figures involved.
That is not, by any means, to dilute the status of those who ended up being the vanquished party after the appeal process. However, whether in sport, business or just in the case of Neil Diamond singing, money talks. Thus, no matter how plausible O’Donoghue’s pleadings – not to mention the views of the widely respected Pat Keane – may have appeared, once Qatar et al decided to appeal, the odds were with a reinstatement of the ‘past the post’ verdict.
What’s also been instructive has been the manner in which the O’Brien camp reacted – or more pointedly, didn’t – to the turn of events. There’s something immensely impressive in the way Aidan and his family carry themselves. You might say that’s only as it should be. Which may be true.
For all that, though, the racing game being fraught with the dangers of putting somebody’s nose out of joint is never far from illustration. Just observe the way in which Luca Cumani – top class trainer and, from far away observation – a gentleman was recently jettisoned by one of the leading Arab magnates.
Perhaps that’s exactly what sets the current incumbent of the most famous residence in Irish racing apart. Notwithstanding John Magnier’s (shameful in my view) degradation that the handler had “apologised” after a horse had been defeated some years back, they couldn’t conceivably consider dispensing with the services of the Wexford native.
Even allowing for the rumours – which had to germinate somewhere – linking David O’Meara with the Ballydoyle role, and a shift of sorts which has seen the perennial champion trainer become a welcome potent presence in the National Hunt sphere again as well as training for owners other than the Coolmore ‘syndicate’, it’s in everyone’s best interests that things remain as is concerning the crown jewels of Irish racing.