The length of the deliberations, and the reactions of some at the Simple Verse appeal being upheld illustrate just how accomplished Colm O’Donoghue was in pulling off an equine sleight of hand on the track, and then a compelling argument with which to bolster it in the stewards’ room.
Let’s be clear on one thing: O’Donoghue was the aggressor from the outset. I’d be the last to dispute that a jockey is entitled to block the path of a rival by not moving out of the way, but that is entirely different from forcing your mount physically onto that rival. O’Donoghue did this in a relatively minor way – Atzeni described it as ‘leaning’ – the footage shows he leant on her and came back off her (bumped her) and as O’Donoghue brought her back in for a second attempt, he met the filly edging out as she tried to regain her balance after the first bump. Bondi Beach, on the way in to intimidate her for the second time, bounced off her, making Atzeni look the aggressor. And here was the sleight of hand – everybody, (me too, initially) looked at the effect of that bump rather than the cause. The cause was O’Donoghue’s deliberate and consistent aggression.
But O’Donoghue played on the effect of the bump, burnishing it with a convincing performance in the stewards’ room. There was little obvious resistance to that performance by Atzeni, perhaps because he knew the reality of the situation and could not believe that the stewards would not see that reality. But they did not, and the combination of O’Donoghue’s good luck in bouncing off the filly, and the meek acceptance of his evidence by the stewards, saw a serious injustice take place.
If you doubt O’Donoghue’s guilt here, have a look at what he does in the Prix Niel 24 hours after the Leger (you’ll see it in that video clip in my previous post). And look, too, at how determined he was in the Leger to keep trying to intimidate Simple Verse throughout the last two furlongs. Atzeni, punters, bookmakers, connections were hit by the unfortunate combination of Mr Nice Guy meets Mr Win at all Costs.
But that battle should have been refereed by the Doncaster stewards, and they failed, in my opinion, as much because of human nature as anything else. They were faced not only with what looked at first glance a hefty bump caused by the filly, but in O’Donoghue, a convincing advocate whose personality dominated the room, not just the questioning. When both jockeys leave that room, here is what must be going through the minds of those stewards, even if it was subliminal:
‘Many thousands of viewers just saw the runner-up take a hefty bump, then his jockey offer a very impressive case, compared with Atzeni; they’ll think us incompetent if we don’t change the result’.
They took very little time after hearing the evidence in declaring the result, doing a serious disservice to racing in the process. How long did the appeal panel deliberate? The film evidence should have been examined at Doncaster from every angle and at whatever length necessary, and with no consideration given to jockey evidence.
It’s time the TV cameras were barred from the stewards’ room: it’s fine entertainment for those at home – not so much for those whose livelihoods depend on a steward’s decision.
Also, with both sides claiming that jockey evidence has no influence on the outcome (really?), let’s stop interviewing jockeys for these enquiries. The stewards have plenty expert help and multiple angles on the footage.
This debacle will surely bring forward the advent of a centralised panel, hopefully, minus any jockey evidence.