Chief stipendiary steward John Schreck yesterday took the highly unusual step of inviting the press into the stewards' room after racing to explain the controversial outcome to the griffin race which opened the Sha Tin card. The first two placings were reversed in the 1,200-metre contest, but Schreck said 'anarchy would rule on the track' if the stewards had allowed the result to stand.
Classic Master crossed the line a neck ahead of Tony Cruz's Indubitably Bliss, but was demoted after being found to have caused interference to his rival in the last 300 metres. The Peter Ho-trained Classic Master took the lead at the top of the straight and had a two-length lead as Felix Coetzee launched his challenge.
He made ground gradually on the leader, who drifted across the track despite John Egan switching his whip to his left hand, and the two runners ended up close together in the middle of the track with Classic Master still narrowly in front at the line. Coetzee lodged an objection, but it was a difficult one to call and the stewards took almost 10 minutes to reach their decision, which Schreck was clearly aware would not be greeted with universal approval. Hence the invitation to the stewards' room, where he showed replays of the race and explained in detail the reasons behind the verdict.
'These decisions are never easy and there will always be different opinions, but the stewards decided that by shifting out Classic Master cost Indubitably Bliss the race,' Schreck said. Pointing to the head-on replay, he added: 'You can see that Classic Master is about two horses out from the fence at the 200-metre mark, but as the film rolls he shifts out while being ridden along and finishes another eight horses wide. Bearing in mind that the distance between them was only a neck at the finish and that Indubitably Bliss had been carried from the running to which it was rightfully entitled, the stewards decided to sustain the objection.'
Schreck said Egan should have put down his whip and straightened Classic Master. 'Horses are steered using the reins, not the whip. That's what we told John Egan, and he was warned that he might face a suspension if he doesn't stop riding and straighten his horse in similar circumstances in the future. If we allow jockeys to ride like that, anarchy would rule on the track.'
He added that it was not up to Coetzee to prove whether his mount would have won without the interference. 'Once it has been established that a horse has caused trouble, which Classic Master clearly did in this case, it is incumbent upon his jockey to show cause as to why he should keep the race. That is the way objections are considered by this panel of stewards, and that's the way they should be considered by stewards all over the world.'
Egan said: 'I thought it was a 50-50 case. I feel a little bit hard done by, but if I'd been in Felix's position and not got the race I would have felt hard done by too. They are both young horses and still a bit green, and you have to expect these things.'
The controversy should not detract from the performances of Classic Master and Indubitably Bliss. In pulling 7.75 lengths clear, they paid a huge compliment to Derek Cruz's griffin Huang Pu Jiang, who had inflicted separate wide-margin defeats on this pair on their debuts.