'Williams plays Spielberg, requesting replays of the race from every angle'
James Burn reflects on an interesting – and very long – appeal at BHA headquarters on Thursday featuring trainer Dai Burchell and Robbie Dunne, the pair having contested the verdict of Ffos Las stewards to fine the trainer £3,000, ban the jockey for 14 days and suspend Big Chip And Pin for 40 days over his running and riding on April 16
There's more than one way to skin a cat.
Now, no cats are being skinned – the BHA could probably do without that – but Lyn Williams, the authority's disciplinary team leader, and jump jockey Robbie Dunne aren't in agreement.
They are sat opposite each other in the basement of the BHA's London offices, an airier venue than my colleague Tom Kerr may have described when detailing the goings-on in the infamous Jim Best case.
This hearing is less serious, in that it was 'only' 14 days Dunne was suspended for at Ffos Las this month, when local stewards found the rider in breach of a rule relating to schooling and conditioning Big Chip And Pin in a two-mile novice hurdle. The five-year-old's 80-year-old trainer Dai Burchell was fined £3,000 and the horse suspended from racing for 40 days.
"We've done nothing wrong," says a tie-less Dunne as he draws a pre-hearing cigarette on a blustery, bustling High Holborn street that is somewhat removed from his usual surroundings of Uttoxeter or Worcester, or indeed Punchestown, which is where he should have been to ride Colla Pier in a €65,000 handicap chase – the sort of race you need to win to cover the train fare from Swindon.
As we settle down, Williams plays Steven Spielberg, requesting replays of the race be shown from every angle possible.
It seems to go on forever, so it's a good job Dunne, now with a navy tie smartly wrapped around his neck, has won an Eider, Scottish Grand National, Classic Chase and Haydock Grand National Trial.
The thrust of Williams' argument is that Dunne doesn't make enough effort – or 'TRS' as the kids would probably say. 'TRS', which no-one is calling it, stands for the timely, real and substantial effort jockeys are expected to be seen making to obtain the best possible finishing position in a race.
Williams, enthusiastic, energetic and direct but also polite, argues 32-year-old Dunne has not done that. The rider, unsurprisingly, thinks differently.
He knows the horse, knows how it tires, knows you can't ask it for a big question too soon or it will fall in a hole, says he gave it a squeeze and slap down the neck, sat lower in the saddle.
His steely glare is challenged only by an incredulous look when it is suggested he should have made that effort a mile or so from home, Dunne later pointing to the fact conditionals Charlie Hammond and Conor Ring did chase the pace and finished tailed off.
Williams, who might have Pat 'P Val' Valenzuela's stunning mid-race move on Arazi in that Breeders' Cup Juvenile on his mind, soon moves on to Burchell, who trains a small string between Merthyr Tydfil and Abergavenny near Ebbw Vale.
Padded gilet over his tweed-pattern suit and checked shirt, Burchell, even in the multicultural metropolis that is London, still stands out from the crowd. We're now nudging the fifth or sixth replay of the race in what would not be the most challenging round of What Happened Next? on A Question of Sport.
Williams argues that because of the presence of three likely types in the race, or "good things" as he calls them, connections have decided to finish fourth. Burchell, who is represented by Dawn Bacchus, told the Ffos Las stewards fourth was the best he thought his runner could finish, and Williams thinks this reinforces his point.
The veteran, who might have been as surprised as Jenkins' trainer Nicky Henderson to find the one-time Supreme favourite lining up at the track in April, stresses this is not the case.
"I'm 80. I've no intention of racing them for next year – I want them now," explains the licence holder of 35 years.
Was he ridden to finish fourth?
"No. If Robbie had made more use of him, the further back he'd have gone. If he'd been too aggressive on the horse he'd be on the deck. He knows what he's got left; experience tells you that."
And it's not just the experience of Dunne, but of Big Chip And Pin, who is noted to have a wind problem and finished the race slightly lame, although the defence are not using the latter as an excuse.
Representing the rider is Rory Mac Neice, a regular at these dos.
He's straight to the point, outlining the tactics employed by Dunne enabled the horse to achieve his best possible finishing position, so does it matter how he did it? A jockey who wins a race but is not seen to be using TRS, sorry, timely, real and substantial, effort on a horse is not questioned. So why the problem if the same is used and the horse finishes fourth, 15th or 21st, as long as that's its best possible finishing slot?
Williams is not convinced.
"At some point you've got to put the horse under the correct pressure to see what the result is," he says.
Dunne insists he has put what he'd describe as pressure on the son of Generous, although it isn't exactly a McCoy-style all-action drive.
"If you don't ask you don't know what you're going to get. But we do know," Mac Neice replies, referencing two previous races at Chepstow when Big Chip And Pin weakened over the line after getting more vigorous rides from Dunne, losing third place in one contest.
After nearly five hours of scrutinising the Davies Chemists Ltd Novices' Hurdle, to give it its far-from-grandiose title, the three-person panel, chaired by Patrick Milmo QC with Lucinda Cavendish and Celina Carter either side of him, comes to a decision.
It upholds the appeal, perhaps with the closing words of Mac Neice ringing in their ears.
"It's rare allegations like this are made when a horse is beaten such a distance," he says. "When it's two or three lengths normally you can say had something different been tried it might have worked, but it was 27 lengths back to the fourth."
It seems Mac Neice's prediction during the adjournment for lunch was correct; job Dunne.