We can’t remember too many instances of interference in a very minor event which generated the polarised discussions Vincent Ho Chak-yiu’s left turn without a blinker did at Sha Tin on Sunday.
But then the stewards have been moving squarely back into the conversational cross hairs of fans with some decisions lately.
With a lapful of horse and only a clear passage standing between Ho and victory on California Joy, he angled left into Gorgeous Legend, barged him out of the way and coasted clear.
As a piece of interference it was, in its way, undistinguished as it involved a minimal number of horses, and didn’t involve a fall or a threat to life and limb, perhaps more by luck than good management but there you are.
And it didn’t end up the catalyst for a controversial protest, as it might have done in some places. In that sense, there will always be those who say that jockeys should not profit from the actions Ho took – no barge out, quite possibly Ho is still in the pocket 300m later when the race ends, without a victory. Under our system of objections – the preferred way of all the flawed options in our opinion – he doesn’t lose the race but the jockey is penalised.
The question on Sunday was whether he was penalised under the correct section of the rule. Under rule 100 (1), there are six degrees of riding breaches in a race – foul, dangerous, improper, reckless, incompetent and careless. They are probably best defined in that order as carrying descending degrees of intent, so the interference itself and the outcome of that interference is only part of it. The differing levels of charge carry harsher minimum penalties which might then be influenced further by the effects of the trouble on other horses or riders, or the status of the race.
Ultimately, Ho was charged and penalised with careless riding, banned for two meetings and fined HK25,000.
In the 1978 Caulfield Guineas in Melbourne, jockey Gary Willetts made exactly the same manoeuvre on odds-on favourite Manikato to push his major rival out of the way and go on to win the race clearly. He was found guilty of foul riding, later dropped to improper riding on appeal, but his three-month suspension stood.
There were those on Sunday who thought Ho’s move was anything but careless - he knew exactly what he was doing – so the intent should have brought a more severe charge.
On the other hand, opinions also swung all the way in the other direction to a senior fellow jockey who said there should have been no charge at all for pushing a beaten horse out of the way.
And then there was California Joy’s trainer, Tony Cruz, a former champion rider who said that Ho had to wear the penalty because it was part of being a jockey to make that move, and that he would have been an object of public scorn if he sat there “like a fool” and didn’t do what he had to do to win the race.
In the end, we think the stewards might have made the most people happy by only going with a careless riding charge, where the punishment fits the crime. An improper charge would have carried at least a six-meeting ban, harsh for what it was. Equally, the stewards can’t condone riding horses into other horses for the sole purpose of getting them out of the way – there are times when sitting there like a fool is the jockey’s lot, like suspension or the booing when you come back to scale. It’s also part of the game.
The other talking point from the stewards lately was Karis Teetan’s narrow escape from a more serious charge again on Allcash at the previous Sha Tin meeting and bad luck for Ho probably saved Teetan, or at least saved the stewards a nasty headache.
While Teetan was sitting behind the leader and not taking an obvious run available to the inside – while looking around for and giving way to Zac Purton, apparently calling out for safety reasons from three lengths behind him – Ho was badly held up back in the field on Full Glory.
When Purton and Happilababy had sailed through and away, Teetan finally did take the run inside and got past the leader into third, more than two lengths behind the runner-up Happy Rocky, and half a length in front of big-finishing Full Glory.
The situation mirrored one in 2008 when Gerald Mosse was handed a nine-meeting ban on Willing Storm after he took a long time going to an open run on the inside of the leaders. In a bunched finish, stewards felt sure that Mosse’s mount would have beaten at least one more horse home had he done things differently, but the Frenchman would have been an interested observer of the Allcash matter, particularly as the “looking around” part in this case had angered punters into thinking much the worse of the whole scenario.
Hang ’em high was the call and most felt Teetan had done enough to get a month’s holiday but he was saved by the margin of defeat by the runner-up and Ho’s bad luck.
To pin a running and handling charge on the ride, stewards had to be convinced that Allcash did not finish in the best possible placing he could have achieved in the race ie that he would have run second, beating the horse two and-a-quarter lengths in front of him at the post. That was a stretch, so the offence didn’t satisfy all requirements of the rule, no matter that it looked absolutely culpable.
But if Full Glory has clear running slightly earlier and grabs third off him in a photo, then the noose had to drop on Teetan as, still finishing where he did relative to the winner, the ride would then clearly have cost Allcash more than the margin of that defeat by the next place-getter. You can be lucky and just not know it sometimes.