'Confused' O'Brien questions rule after Dundalk fine upheld
Aidan O'Brien labelled the Turf Club's controversial rule 212 "very hard to understand and very confusing" after losing his appeal on Monday against the penalty imposed on him by the Dundalk stewards on March 31 over the running of the filly Music Box.
O'Brien was fined €2,000, while the five-day ban on jockey Wayne Lordan and the 42-day suspension for Music Box were also upheld. Rule 212 deals with horses having to be seen to be run, and ridden, to obtain the best possible placing in a race.
Rule 212, in its current form, was introduced in January and O'Brien said: “In 20 years training I’d never been involved in a running and riding inquiry until this one. Wayne has been riding for 19 years and he, too, has had a clean record.
“Rule 212 is very difficult to fully understand and I find it very confusing.”
Music Box was beaten a length and a nose in a mile fillies' maiden and the penalties were upheld by the Appeals Committee of the Turf Club after a one-hour hearing at Turf Club headquarters at the Curragh.
Not legally represented
The decision reached by the Dundalk stewards also involved an alleged breach of another section of rule 212 involving schooling a horse on the racecourse and that aspect of O'Brien's appeal was allowed after the three-man committee – Joe Finnegan (chairman), Leslie Crawford and Nicholas Lambert – had deliberated for 30 minutes.
O'Brien and Lordan were not legally represented at the Turf Club hearing. The case against them was presented by Shay Quinn (stewards' secretary) and the Turf Club's solicitor Cliodhna Guy.
In reaching their decision, the committee considered that, had Lordan given Music Box a more vigorous ride in the closing stages of the race, the filly would have finished second to her stablemate Asking.
In his evidence on Monday Lordan stated Music Box "had got a bit upset in the stalls and hadn't travelled well, possibly due to kickback", and that he switched her right instead of going for a wider gap on the left about a furlong out as he thought the horse immediately in front of him – the O'Brien-trained Pennsylvania – was leaning to the left.
The decision to move the filly to the right led to some interference and Lordan was adamant he rode out Music Box with hands and heels as strongly as he could without resorting to the whip.
Quinn pressed Lordan on his claims he had ridden the filly strongly and O'Brien described Quinn's repeated questioning of Lordan on that subject, and his decision not to switch the filly left about a furlong out, as "terrible".
He also questioned the decision to show the committee Lordan's contrasting ride on another newcomer, Longing, who ran third at Leopardstown last week.
O'Brien claimed Longing and Music Box were totally different types of filly and that to compare the two rides was unfair.
In his evidence, O'Brien stated that Music Box, who was making her debut, had proved difficult in the stalls at Ballydoyle two weeks prior to running at Dundalk and that she had become anxious and broke a bit slowly in the Dundalk race.
Get the filly relaxed
He added that his instructions to Lordan were to get the filly relaxed and ride her to obtain the best possible placing, without resorting to the whip.
O'Brien also raised Music Box's performance at Leopardstown on Saturday, when she finished second under Ryan Moore. "Ryan rode her more prominently than she had been ridden at Dundalk. She raced too keenly and found nothing off the bridle," he said.
The trainer added that anyone who thought Music Box had been brought to Dundalk to "float around" couldn't be more wrong.
"I'm very disappointed that the penalties have been upheld but pleased we were not found guilty of schooling," he said.
WHAT IS RULE 212?
Often referred to as the non-triers' rule, it covers running and riding inquiries, the ultimate objective of which is to ensure all horses run on their merits.
Why is everyone talking about it?
It was comprehensively reconstructed following a raft of high-profile failures by the Turf Club to make convictions stick under the original version.
When did the new incarnation come into practice?
So, what's different?
The revised rule runs to 1,400 words, in contrast to 200 previously, and has been broken up into four sub-sections for different categories of infringement. That allows the regulator greater flexibility, and this fluidity is what defines the new rule as a whole.
What are the four sub-sections?
The first part deals with blatant non-triers; the second with less clear-cut cases whereby a genuine attempt to obtain the best possible placing is not evident; the third caters for instances of schooling in public and horses running in a condition that would have precluded them from performing to its optimum level; part four deals with negligent rides in which a jockey makes a professional error.
Is there a particular game-changing element?
There is. Previously, the word 'seen' didn't appear in the ruling, whereas now it features on four occasions. In short, jockeys have to be seen to make a real and timely effort to obtain the best possible position, so that "a reasonable and informed member of the racing public" can be assured a horse has run on its merits.
Why else is this important?
Apart from connections trying to achieve a favourable handicap by concealing a horse's true potential, it means "educational" runs that might previously have been deemed acceptable by many within the industry are no longer passable. Every horse must be given a proper drive.
Does that mean jockeys will be harder on horses?
It certainly shouldn't. There is no stipulation for a jockey to hit a horse, but they are compelled to give it a vigorous ride, so the sort of sympathetic handling of old could be no more.