Lurching from one crisis to the next

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2006, 12:00am

This was a season where racing's judiciary came under more public pressure over its performance - a season which had significance for Philip Dingwall as he joined the team, but one which Jamie Stier and his panel would probably prefer to forget.

Stipendiary stewards know they are an easy target. Almost any significant decision they make will leave somebody unhappy.

But in 2005-06, the stewards probably took more odd or inconsistent directions than even in previous years and copped more flak in all sections of the media.

There was Dr Well's form reversal, shrugged off by the panel which had failed to send the stayer back to trial after he had tailed out. There was the Shane Dye-Brett Prebble face-off at Sha Tin mid-season where one man was put out and the other went blameless. There was a list of questionable careless-riding suspensions and non-suspensions.

There was the increasing impatience of punters with important tactical riding changes being announced moments before a race.

Protests were about the only area where the panel had a clean sheet.

Jockeys usually have a grudging respect for stewards, recognising that without effective stewarding their dangerous job can become Russian roulette but it would be rare to find a jockeys' room of Hong Kong's standard and experience so united in their criticism, so likely to shake their heads at not only their own treatment but that meted out to others.

Standing like a beacon in an already well-lit display was Robbie Fradd's ban for an honest mistake riding Healthy Fruits - a stewards' error which ranked up with the six-month ban Glyn Schofield caught from the same panel two years ago and which was later reduced to zero on appeal.

Stewards punished Fradd, in the midst of his worst season, for a wrong decision which no one anywhere suspected of being corrupt.

The same mistakes are made race by race. On appeal, the ban was halved but the appeal panel must be tiring of seeing serious charges before them without a proper basis.

The season in the stewards' room can best be summed up in a single word - inconsistency - and the silver lining must be that there's plenty of room for improvement.