Are stewards rule enforcers or riding instructors?
On Wednesday the stewards’ focus fell on the riding of Gerald Mosse: he was fined heavily for dropping his hands on a beaten runner, but before that he received a severe reprimand for being stuck three-deep, no cover on a favourite. But where is the line between rule enforcer and riding instructor for stipes?
Firstly, stewards’ directives are clear and the punishment severe for dropping hands – that is, not riding a horse right to the line – as Tommy Berry found out earlier this season after copping a suspension on Smart Man. This is a tight-handicapped environment with massive betting turnover, where winning margins matter more than anywhere in the world, right down to 14th and last place.
Mosse is a repeat offender at the “lacking vigour over the concluding stages” caper and, as such, he was fined HK$30,000 on Wednesday night for not testing Straight Gold right to the line in the last. The quintessential “mercurial Frenchman”, we’ve written about Mosse’s indifference to flogging a beaten horse in non-Group races before. There’s nothing malicious about it.
And there probably would have been HK$30,000 in the ashtray of Mosse’s Bentley that would have taken care of the fine, but what there might be more issue with is the instructive feedback from stewards given to Mosse and Keith Yeung Ming-lun earlier in the night.
Mosse was caught in what some feel is an all-too-familiar position on Ho In One – three-deep with no cover from gate five. The Hong Kong Jockey Club Rules of Racing and Instructions is particularly good night-time reading – or maybe effective is a better word, in that it puts you straight to sleep. But if you can get up to Rule 99 (2) –just after Rule 94 (7) that states that jockeys can’t carry any substitute for a whip in a race (what, no sword or baseball bat?) – you find an interesting and more often used stipulation.
Rule 99 (2) states: “The jockey of every horse should take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to ensure that his horse is given a full opportunity to win or obtain the best possible placing in the field.”
It’s a rule that is open to interpretations as there are plenty of “bad” rides at racecourses every day – and there were plenty of punters cursing Mosse’s Chinese name when he got posted and finished 10th as 3.1 favourite.
But those are matters of opinion and “bad” rides or ineptitude aren’t really what this rule is for – it is for perceived bad intentions. In the case of Mosse on Ho In One, we are sure he would have liked to get some cover. It’s just that things didn’t work out that way.
Then again, the wording of the stewards report seems to indicate they felt Mosse was sailing pretty close to the wind, not just riding too close to the outside rail: “… in the opinion of the Stewards, he was not decisive in shifting Ho In One across to a position closer to the rail in the early stages when it was available for him to do so,” the gripping report read.
“He was further advised that this was the second occasion during this meeting alone that he had been spoken to in respect of travelling wide and without cover which was of concern to the stewards. He was reminded of his obligation to ride his mounts in such a manner that they are afforded the best possible run in the race and are consequently given every opportunity to finish in the best possible position.” So there.
But is it up to Kim Kelly and Co. on the stewards panel to provide that sort of on-the-record feedback? Maybe Mosse believes that three-wide is the best place to be?
Australian racegoers generally don’t think so – they are raised on a “get to the fence, get cover, or go as slow as you can in front” mantra – and obviously Kelly’s gang are of the same school.
It was that last one, “go as slow as you can in front”, that brought Yeung’s ride on Bullish Boy into the stewards’ room spotlight.
Clearly he overdid it with a 26.03 second sectional coming into the back straight, which invited a move from the back by outsider Noble Deluxe. That placed the leader under unnecessary pressure, when perhaps Yeung could have still dictated with slightly quicker fractions. Yeung got even more of a lesson in a lengthy stewards report.
We can see where stewards are coming from – this is a big money environment, where desperate and demanding punters “do their lives” on the two meetings per week.
Protecting integrity is paramount, but in the case of bad rides – not sinister ones – wouldn’t a tap on the shoulder, or even a kick up the backside, be as effective as a wordy warning?
It is a slippery slope when it comes to grading jockeys’ rides – there’s lots of them, but there’s more than one way to win a race.