Stipes hit new levels of silliness with Yeung
If the next photo to emerge of Olympic great Michael Phelps holding a bong shows him passing it to the Jockey Club's stipendiary stewards, that would go part of the way to explaining how Thomas Yeung Kai-tong was suspended last week.
There was a time when they said the four-minute mile wouldn't be beaten, that human beings couldn't run the 100m in 10 seconds or that landing on the moon was the stuff of science fiction.
But it is in the nature of mankind that boundaries are pushed back, new extremes achieved and unrelentingly higher highs and lower lows are reached.
When Robbie Fradd was suspended for his ride on Healthy Fruits a couple of seasons ago, we never thought we would see a sillier penalty. We were wrong.
Yeung was suspended for nine meetings under Rules 99 (2) and (3), dealing with a jockey's obligation to 'take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout that race' to ensure Packing Winner was given a full opportunity to win or to obtain the best possible placing in the Centenary Vase on February 8.
Once upon a time that rule was a signal that stewards believed something underhand had gone on and this was the most effective route to punishing it. More recently, the rule has been wheeled out arbitrarily to punish tactical errors, brain snaps and honest mistakes.
This column does not believe Yeung's ride on Packing Winner falls under any of those headings. In fact, it is difficult to take issue with his ride at any part of the race until he popped out to face the breeze for a couple of seconds before it was necessary approaching the home straight but, even as he did so, Yeung flushed Douglas Whyte out four wide on Sight Winner and he was forced to come around and cover him again.
The particulars of the charge highlight that Yeung moved from the rails box seat to a two-wide position leaving the 900m, when, in the opinion of the inquiry, 'it was reasonable for him to have remained in his settling position behind the leader on the fence and begin to shift out on the home turn as instructed'.
First of all, Yeung's instructions have no bearing on the matter. Instructions, nine times out of 10, are an owner's or trainer's fantasy of what a race might look like and they infrequently have a serious relationship with the real world.
Second, there is a rule vaguely dealing with a rider's obligations to ride to instructions and Yeung was not dealt with under that rule.
Third, he is a senior jockey expected to think and act for himself in a race regardless of what the pre-race intentions might be.
At the time Yeung moved out of the box seat to a two-wide position with cover, he did so knowing the horse in front of him, Californiamountain, was a 64-1 shot returning from three months off with joint problems and who had every chance of landing in his lap on straightening. After enjoying a soft run to that point, it was by no means unreasonable not to overstay his welcome and to get off the leader's back. The opportunity to seamlessly move to the two path came and Yeung took it. Stay another 200m and see if anybody wants to let you out when you really need to move.
By moving then, Yeung also placed Whyte, on one of his main rivals, in difficulty. And when Yeung did, then come three wide and without cover for a few seconds, Whyte was forced to press forward from four wide and give him some cover again.
Packing Winner then failed. His finishing position was not a result of Yeung's ride, it was a result of not being good enough. Sight Winner's passage was considerably tougher than Packing Winner's and he beat him home. End of story.
And we would argue the only horse to finish ahead of Packing Winner and behind Sight Winner, Fearless, also beat him on merits. So which particular, better place in the field did Packing Winner fail to get because of the jockey's ride?
Somewhere along the way, this rule has become very twisted but especially, in this case, the part about what is reasonable. Nothing Yeung did was unreasonable, but we can show you dozens of rides a week where unreasonable decisions are made. Jockeys who go too fast, too slow, engage in unnecessary speed duels or make no effort to alleviate wide running. And many of them with far bigger names than Yeung.
Even if you agreed that Yeung's ride was culpable - and our quick poll of professional punters and full-time race watchers has not unearthed anyone who thought so - we are going back over the Fradd-Healthy Fruits ground, that honest mistakes occur. In Fradd's case, hindsight showed he cost the horse the race but he should never have been suspended for it. In Yeung's case, he cost the horse nothing.
Why did he plead guilty?
Like other people, jockeys fall into different personality categories. Most are in the brash, cocky, slightly aggressive group. Some are more quiet and reserved. Yeung, from our experience, would fit more neatly among the latter.
As a senior rider, he would be permitted no assistance at the stewards' inquiry and, sitting alone before the panel to defend himself against this nonsense charge, probably concluded that a guilty plea was the most painless path to getting it all over with.
While a guilty plea does not remove anyone's right to appeal, it weakens their position significantly. However, Yeung still should have helped himself and appealed against the severity of the ban. The insanity may not have been removed, but it would surely have been reduced.
Now the stewards have laid themselves a nice bed.
Are we going to see, in the name of consistency, charges brought over other tactical errors, perceived or real? Of course not. There would be nobody riding within a fortnight.
So we are back to the lack of consistency in decisions - one does something and is banned, another does it and not a word is said. A chocolate wheel of judicial nicety.
Pass the bong.
Yeung still should have helped himself and appealed against the severity of the ban. The insanity would surely have been reduced