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Royal Gait

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    Posted: 10 Jun 2018 at 6:10pm
ROYAL ASCOT STUNNING MOMENTS ROYAL GAIT DISQUALIFIED

'An affront to justice and fairness' – French raider denied Gold glory

Julian Muscat on the furore after Royal Gait's 1988 Gold Cup disqualification

Three blind mice.

That was how the Racing Post described the Ascot stewards in the wake of one of the biggest controversies the royal meeting has ever known. A bonfire was lit after the Gold Cup on June 16 1988, which goes down as a seminal day in the history of British racing. It raged for some time.

Less than two hours after the Gold Cup Greville Starkey was catapulted from the saddle when poised to win the King George V Handicap aboard Ile De Chypre, whose wayward antics opened this series on Friday. It was a day of extremes for Starkey, who had been gifted the Gold Cup when Sadeem, who’d passed the post in a remote second place behind Royal Gait, was awarded the race in the stewards’ room.


The announcement of an inquiry came as no surprise to those in attendance. Tony Clark had been thrown to the ground at the two-furlong marker when his mount, El Conquistador, had pitched forward violently. Some interference involving Royal Gait had almost certainly taken place, but the galleries were too transfixed by the brilliance of his victory to be overly concerned about it.

Royal Gait had been a revelation. Under Cash Asmussen, the five-year-old was trapped against the far rail rounding the turn for home after Starkey, riding Sadeem, had legitimately pinned him in. Then came El Conquistador’s stumble, after which Asmussen sent Royal Gain up the rail to quicken up with a sprinter’s acceleration.

Seeing was believing as Royal Gait drew further away from Sadeem, with Sergeyevich, who passed the post in third place, left toiling a further 15 lengths adrift. The French-trained raider finished full of running to score by a distance of five lengths that could easily have been ten. What’s more, he lowered the two-and-a-half-mile track record by more than three seconds.

There is no doubt Royal Gait’s dazzling display fanned the controversy’s flames. It’s a truism that the longer an inquiry goes on, the more chance there is of the stewards revising the outcome. They deliberated for more than 25 minutes before the announcement that stunned everyone into silence. When voices were rediscovered they were charged with outrage.

Asmussen, who received a seven-day suspension, was deemed to have ridden carelessly in precipitating Clark’s fall from El Conquistador. Under the rules at the time, that finding required Royal Gait’s demotion. Nobody was more taken aback than Jim McGrath, then a director at Timeform before he joined the Channel 4 Racing team.

“The Gold Cup was the third of three races I did for Timeform that day,” he recalls. “As soon as the race was over I left Ascot for London. It was only when I got to my hotel an hour later that I discovered Royal Gait had been disqualified. I’d actually had my conkers on the horse at a decent price in the morning [Royal Gait started at 15-2].”

Back at Ascot, Royal Gait’s trainer, the Chantilly-based Australian John Fellows, broke down in tears. “It’s difficult to believe,” he said. “The leader El Conquistador was rolling around like a drunken sailor when the incident happened. All the horses seemed to be on top of each other.”

A stablemate of Sadeem trained by Guy Harwood, El Conquistador had made the running at a breakneck pace. He was out on his feet when the field caught up with him on the home turn. As he backpedalled furiously into Royal Gait’s path, a gentle breeze might have blown him over. The slightest brush from Royal Gait was more than sufficient.

Royal Gait’s connections quickly decided to appeal against the decision. The entire circus moved on to the Jockey Club’s Portman Square offices in London the following week. After the appeal was dismissed, Timeform’s lead writer Geoff Greetham wrote in the organisation's 1988 Racehorses annual that the outcome was “an affront to anyone with a sense of justice and fairness”.

The mood at the meeting had been soured, with the Ascot stewards portrayed as villains of the piece. Tempers ran high, both after the race and at the subsequent appeal. With hindsight, however, the rules as they were at the time were just as culpable as the stewards.

In the event of careless riding, the infamous Rule 153 stipulated that an errant jockey’s mount be placed behind the horse it had interfered with. Royal Gait had interfered only with El Conquistador, who had failed to finish, yet he was placed last.

“The rule had been causing problems anyway,” McGrath recalls. “It posed a dilemma: should a horse be disqualified to punish the jockey, or should only the jockey be punished in the interests of allowing the best horse to keep the race?

“Royal Gait won entirely on merit, and I suppose because it was a very high-profile race, it was another step to bringing in the rule we have now [where jockeys are suspended for careless riding but the horse is not demoted]. Even now though, plenty think the present rule is flawed. Clever jockeys can manipulate it to their advantage.”

McGrath feels that for stewards trying to apply the old Rule 153 – it was finally revised ten years later in 1998 in order to stop winners on merit being demoted – it was a case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

“Phil Bull [Timeform’s founder] always argued that the outcome of a race and the disciplining of jockeys were two separate matters, but are they? Can they be separated effectively? It was a great shame, because Royal Gait was clearly the best horse on the day.”

Royal Gait finally had his day of glory when winning the 1992 Champion Hurdle for James Fanshawe, but in Spain, where the horse was originally trained until he moved to Fellows halfway through his four-year-old season, racing aficionados still seethe with indignation at the mention of a controversy now 30 years distant.

Four years ago, when Noozhoh Canarias came over with some confidence for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, his Spanish connections intoned before the race: “If he wins we hope it will not be Royal Gait all over again.”

Duval's Portman Square pledge kept saga in the spotlight  

Almost to an individual, members of Her Majesty’s fourth estate were outraged by the Ascot stewards’ decision to disqualify Royal Gait.

Few railed more angrily than the late Christopher Poole, racing correspondent of the Evening Standard, whose attack on what he deemed was a disgrace resulted in his newspaper making a five-figure charitable donation to ward off a possible libel action from a Jockey Club member.

Also outraged was Claude Duval, who wrote in The Sun that he “would run naked around Portman Square if the appeal is not upheld”.

When the appeal was quashed Duval thought no more about it until he received a call from The Sun’s then editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who’d been alerted to Duval’s as-yet unfulfilled pledge. To Duval’s protestations that it had only been a jape, MacKenzie replied: “We don’t jape about things on The Sun. Do it or you’re fired.”

Fortunately, Duval was on good terms with the Jockey Club’s then-public relations officer David Pipe, who procured Duval a dressing gown for the deed. Wearing very little under the gown, Duval ventured out to the busy London square, and after one abandoned take when the photographer almost got run over, a picture was snapped showing Duval standing by the Portman Square sign in his underpants.

“It wasn’t straightforward because Kelvin insisted we had to get a black cab in the photograph,” relates Duval. “And when they ran the picture in the next day’s paper they put a star over my underpants under an ‘EXCLUSIVE’ tag.

“It genuinely looked like I was stark naked,” Duval continues. “To this day I have never found out who tipped Kelvin off that I’d written about streaking across that square.”



STRIKE WHILST THE IRON IS HOT

reductio ad absurdum

The richest man is not he who has the most, but he who needs the least.

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djebel View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote djebel Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jun 2018 at 6:11pm


STRIKE WHILST THE IRON IS HOT

reductio ad absurdum

The richest man is not he who has the most, but he who needs the least.

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