Mercurial French jockey Eric Saint-Martin was last night banned for 12 meetings after he was found guilty of improper riding at the conclusion of an adjourned inquiry from Saturday's Sha Tin fixture.
Saint-Martin, riding the Gary Ng Ting-keung-trained Zabette, was leading on the rails in the eighth event when Wendyll Woods on Sea Pearl came upside approaching the 600-metre marker. Saint-Martin's mount then shifted out and took Sea Pearl wide for a number of strides.
Last night the race-meeting stewards, headed by chief stipe John Schreck, found that 'approaching the 600 metres, after having looked to his left and established that Sea Pearl was racing on his outside, he [Saint-Martin] improperly turned the head of Zabette to the left and directed his mount out into the running of Sea Pearl which was endeavouring to hold its position.
'As a consequence of this, Sea Pearl was carried unnecessarily wider on the track and was taken from the running to which it was rightfully entitled.'
Saint-Martin - whose ban is due to start after Sunday's Sha Tin meeting - vigorously denied the charge. He pleaded not guilty at the inquiry which took place prior to last night's opening event at Happy Valley - but he's undecided as to whether he will appeal.
The brilliant French rider, a past winner of the coveted Arc de Triomphe on the part Hong Kong-owned filly Urban Sea, was bitterly upset with the decision.
He said: 'I think it is a very harsh decision - 12 meetings for what? If they are trying to make an example of me, I don't think that is a good thing to do. It was a very minor incident. I don't want to fight these guys [the race-meeting stewards] but I haven't made my mind up whether I will appeal or not. If I don't appeal I can always take some time off to go skiing. We'll have to see.'
Neither Schreck nor director of racing Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges would comment on the case itself due to the possibility of an appeal from Saint-Martin. But Schreck confirmed Saint-Martin had pleaded not guilty and said: 'Each case is separate with its own particular set of facts but as a matter of policy, guilty pleas do attract a discount when it comes to sentencing.'
The race-meeting inquiry was chaired by Henry Tsang in whose colours the Ivan Allan-trained Tajasur won last season's Chairman's Prize.
Woods, as the rider of Sea Pearl, was present for much of the hearing. He was reluctant to discuss the matter but did offer: 'All I'll say is that in my opinion they gave him a very fair hearing. They gave him plenty of time to make his points and listened to them very carefully.'
Meanwhile, leading Australian jockey Corey Brown has landed one of the top jobs back home and will cut short his Club Jockey stint and return to Sydney at the end of this month.
Brown, 24, is to ride for John Hawkes who is the principal trainer for prominent owners Jack and Bob Ingham.
'I'm very, very loath to cut short my contract here but it is just too big an opportunity to turn down,' explained Brown. 'I've spoken to the Club and explained the last thing I want to do is to burn any bridges. I've done my best to explain the situation and would love to come back here in the future. I feel I'm going home a much better rider but I've got to go by the beginning of February as the opportunity will be gone.'