Purton's two-meet ban is too harsh

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 November, 2008, 12:00am

Zac Purton can feel hard done by, getting a two-meeting suspension from his ride on Sambuoyant in the fifth event at Sha Tin last Sunday.

Purton's crime was pushing Crush On You (Eric Saint-Martin) out of the way down the back straight, so the Frenchman lost his position with cover and was suddenly wide on a limb. Saint-Martin then restrained his mount to slip back behind Sambuoyant.

Watching the head-on stewards' patrol footage, there was a preceding incident when Saint-Martin, caught three wide with cover, attempts to push Sambuoyant and Purton in, to take control of their two-wide spot.

However, that piece of theatre didn't make a line in the stewards' report. Rival jockeys know Saint-Martin is the master of intimidation. He monsters rivals in a race and often makes his run on the outside with barely enough room for the opposition inside him to move, but usually within the rules. Usually.

It would seem to us that Purton (pictured) decided not to be intimidated. He would've preferred that Sambuoyant have a bit more galloping room so he not only stood his ground against a shove, he gave it back. And Sambuoyant is a big enough horse - all 1,242 pounds of him - that he'll generally get the position his rider wants.

Stewards have charged Purton with careless riding in that 'near the 1,100m, he shifted his mount out when not clear of Crush On You, causing that horse to be hampered and carried unnecessarily wider on the track and as a result losing running to which it was rightfully entitled'. The push to Crush On You was administered shoulder to shoulder, a clean execution which did not represent a danger to that gelding.

Jockeys push out all the time and, in fact, around 600 metres later if Purton was travelling smoothly and didn't make some effort to push out, he'd have been answering questions of a different kind. We can think of any number of times, especially at Happy Valley, where a jockey has pushed others out of the way down the back straight to 'get on his bike'. At least one rival is generally pushed wider than his jockey wants and may or may not recover his former position.

Secondly, Purton was not careless. He deliberately pushed Saint-Martin out of the way. It was a piece of jockeyship where two quality horsemen engaged each other, there was a bit given each way and one emerged with the points. Hey, it's horse racing.

If Purton was not careless, what was he? Improper? Reckless? Dangerous? We would submit none of the above. If pushing a rival one position wider, in a safe manner, is careless riding, we would be suspending every senior jockey at every meeting.

If the stewards believed Purton had done the wrong thing, because this was the early stages of a race, it's a matter of policy and interpretation, rather than literal rules of racing, and the right answer would have been a warning.

Technically, even a reprimand would have been over the top because he hasn't actually breached a rule.

So why didn't Purton appeal? That's a very good question, but we guess it may have something to do with the fact that in the last seven years, just one such appeal has been successful and two of them (Douglas Whyte and Eddie Lai Wai-ming) had their penalties increased after pleading their case.

That was in 2004. Strangely, that seemed to slow down the jockeys' collective yearning for justice.