Irish racing's new "non-trier" rule claimed its most notable scalps on Monday when Aidan O'Brien's appeal against the penalties imposed in relation to the "running and riding" of the Coolmore Stud owned horse Music Box was dismissed.
O'Brien had been fined €2,000 and jockey Wayne Lordan banned for five days after Music Box finished third to her stable companion Asking at Dundalk last week. Music Box, owned by the Coolmore syndicate headed by John Magnier, was suspended for 42 days.
O’Brien and Lordan, representing themselves, appeared before the Appeals & Referrals Committee panel sitting at Turf Club HQ on Monday where the three penalties were confirmed after a hearing which lasted almost an hour and a half.
Both men were cleared of breaking another clause of the new rule in relation to schooling a horse.
It was the most notable consequence to date of the Turf Club’s amended Rule 212 which was introduced on January 21st after a series of high profile non-trier cases in recent years which had seen penalties subsequently removed on appeal.
The new rule requires jockeys to “be seen” to try and achieve a horse’s best possible position and there’s an obligation on those involved to ensure a horse runs on its merits and is seen “to a reasonable and informed member of the racing public” to do so.
The impact of the new rule was obvious in the Referrals Committee ruling on Monday.
The retired Supreme Court judge Joe Finnegan, chairing the three-man panel which also included Leslie Crawford and Nick Lambert, said the new rule "makes important changes to the way these cases are dealt with" and described the guidelines in relation to a reasonable and informed member of the racing public as an "objective test".
He added that in such a context Lordan’s riding constituted “something less than the substantial efforts that should have been applied.”
After the verdict O’Brien told the panel he was allowed to differ with their opinion and said his problem with the rule is that “any time a jockey drops a horse out, rides a finish but doesn’t get a run, they are open to that.”
Afterwards, the legendary trainer said he was happy to be exonerated of one offence but disappointed at the other. “It’s just a very hard rule to make out and understand,” he said. O’Brien also indicated he won’t be taking the matter any further.
O’Brien and Lordan were not legally represented at the appeal where evidence took up to an hour and resulted in some tetchy disagreements between O’Brien and stewards secretary, Shay Quinn, who presented the Turf Club case.
Reviewing video evidence from the race from various angles, Quinn asked Lordan, a multiple Group 1 winning jockey, if that was as strong as he could ride. O’Brien objected, describing the line of questioning as “terrible”.
He also didn’t like video of a different race at Leopardstown last week being played – which Quinn argued showed how strong Lordan could appear to ride on an unraced three year old filly – claiming that comparisons couldn’t be made between different horses.
O’Brien stated that all his horses run on their merits and when he has multiple entries in a race it is irrelevant if they are perceived to be the stable’s first, second, third or fourth string.
He also pointed to Music Box’s subsequent race at Leopardstown on Saturday when she finished runner up in a maiden under the top English jockey Ryan Moore.
“Because of all this I ended up running her again against my better judgement. Ryan Moore rode her but she ran too free and fell in a hole and found nothing . Ryan told me afterwards she didn’t find another inch off the bridle. I was disgusted with myself because my gut instinct was right. it was an absolute mess because of this,” he said.
Split second decision
Questioned as to why he hadn’t availed of a clear run up the rail at Dundalk, opting instead to challenge through horses on Music Box, Lordan said he had to make a split second decision and he was afraid another O’Brien runner in front of him would drift left.
The jockey said he wouldn’t change anything about his ride and O’Brien said he was very happy with the ride and that jockeys have to make snap decisions all the time in races.
He also said Lordan couldn’t have ridden any more strongly without using his stick which he’d instructed him not to use if possible.
“There’s a difference between circumstances and not doing your best,” he argued.