Like all refs, Stier will be remembered for bad calls

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am

Did he jump or was he pushed? That question, despite the protestations of both Jamie Stier and Jockey Club management, remained over the Australian's sudden departure from the chief steward's position.

At the announcement on May 9, there was talk about the daily pressures of a high-volume betting jurisdiction like Hong Kong and the need to maintain safety, fairness and integrity.

Stier was dedicated and genuine in a demanding job, the spotlighted, public nature of which never seemed to sit as easily with him as with his predecessor, John Schreck, or as it will with his successor, Kim Kelly.

Perhaps it was the ubiquitous cigarette or his unease with 'off the record', but if Stier wished to exude an air of cool confidence, it wasn't working. Yet, if the best to be said of an outgoing chief steward is that he was honest and did it to the best of his ability, we can speak well of Stier.

Between himself and Kelly - alas, no bylines for stewarding - Stier helped resurrect local jockeys with the introduction of a perpetual weight allowance. And, by good luck or good stewarding, racing accidents have become a rarity. Stier must take some credit.

Stewards are like referees - a job well done is one that attracts little attention but there were moments during his 6 1/2 years when attention was attracted by charges or conclusions which beggared explanation.

Among those errors, the egregious nine-day ban in February for a perfectly fine ride by Thomas Yeung Kai-tong on Packing Winner will not be forgotten. If that was the catalyst for the young jockey's decision to quit - and, in fairness, that has not been suggested by Yeung - then the stewards should be disappointed.

It might also have been the catalyst for Stier's departure. Not all those with clout at Sports Road - perhaps not even many - agreed. Though Stier protested he was under no pressure to leave and had done so for his own reasons, it did seem unusual that he had no plan where to go next.

Certainly the stewards' room did present one of the plays of the season when Eric Saint-Martin finally met his Waterloo.

Involved only as a witness in Douglas Whyte's careless-riding inquiry, Saint-Martin went home, despite having been asked to wait. There, he donned board shorts, a sleeveless shirt and flip-flops, and was ready for the beach upon being summoned back to the inquiry.

Later, stewards asked why he had left, and he replied that a bottle of wine required decanting an hour before dinner. When asked why no one else could not do that, Saint-Martin's comic reply was reportedly: 'I like to 'ear ze pop of ze cork myself.'

Stier and his men were unimpressed, in between stifling laughter. For that, his inappropriate dress, a long record of infringement but perhaps just because Eric was hard work for stewards at the best of times, he was asked to a second show-cause hearing and did not survive.

One of the ironies of Saint-Martin and Stier leaving at once is the rider was convinced Stier had a problem with French jockeys.

Both men would have found life easier without the other, but instead we will be without them.