Sunday, 18 May 2014



Cosgrave right to appeal

Author: Nicholas Godfrey


DRACO was an Athenian law scribe under whom small offences carried heavy punishments. Hence Draconian laws, and hence the modern use of the word ‘draconian’ as an adjective to describe an excessively harsh or severe sentences. Which is where we get Pat Cosgrave, handed a six month suspension for his ride on the Mike de Kock-trained Anaerobio after the horse finished two lengths third to better fancied stablemate Vercingetorix three weeks ago in the Jebel Hatta. While it is seldom appropriate to talk about a case that is still ongoing - understandably, this one is under appeal - let’s make an exception in this instance, where ‘draconian’ seems the perfect word to describe Cosgrave’s ban. Or perhaps punitive, heavy handed, cruel or singeing - certainly in comparison to what might happen in other major racing nations. The stewards found Cosgrave guilty of a serious breach of their improper riding rule when angling out from the rail aboard Anaerobio, leaving a corridor for stablemate Vercingetorix to go through. It was far from a subtle manoeuvre: Cosgrave had a look over his shoulder before moving out and the Racing Post analysis was blunt, saying “some team tactics were in evidence”. However, it would appear the Emirates stewards did not agree entirely, since Cosgrave alone has been singled out for punishment, with those set to benefit - the trainer, jockey and owner of the winner, for example - left without stain or reprimand. Anyone who watched the race could reasonably infer that Anaerobio, a beaten horse, had left the rail so as not to impede his stable companion. But let’s be clear: he was not ‘stopped’; Cosgrave plainly did not transgress to the extent that he deliberately prevented his own horse from winning. Indeed, while betting is banned in Dubai, it is worth noting that the unbeaten Vercingetorix was 2-1 favourite while Anaerobio was a 20-1 shot with British bookmakers. Nobody was crying foul. The rules of racing differ around the world - oh, for a comprehensive set of guidelines - and Cosgrave’s riding of Anaerobio might well have been applauded elsewhere. In Ireland, for example, where Richard Hills did exactly the same on outsider Give The Slip in the 2001 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, opening up a clear route on the rail for his Godolphin stable companion Fantastic Light to win. Chief rival Galileo, who was forced wide, was only a head away in second; the difference may well have been the extra ground he had to cover. As my Racing Post colleague Peter Thomas wrote in a column last week: “Nowhere is it disputed that the crucial manoeuvre by Richard Hills on Give The Slip was anything but a premeditated and well-executed strategy to confer an advantage on his stablemate.” Ballydoyle actually tried much the same thing in attempting to dethrone the great Sea The Stars in the 2009 Juddmonte International at York, though the plan happily came unstuck when Mick Kinane simply followed Mastercraftsman through the gap between the other two O’Brien runners. They employed similar tactics at Royal Ascot in 2008 when Honoured Guest left the rail free for Haradasun in the Queen Anne. No action was taken there, but they also got in trouble in Australia for team tactics in the Emirates Melbourne Cup - but could it not be said that any use of pacemakers is tantamount to team tactics? All around the world - well, nearly - such team tactics are part and parcel of the sport. If Cosgrave has indeed transgressed the local rules then he should expect a punishment. But six months? There is a direct comparison from England, where a rule also exists saying that riders “shall not make a manoeuvre in a race in the interests of another horse in common ownership.” Back in 2008, Aidan O’Brien was fined £5,000 after he and then stable jockey Johnny Murtagh were found in breach following a British Horseracing Authority inquiry into alleged team tactics, again in the Juddmonte International, run that year at Newmarket instead of York. Ballydoyle stalwart Colm O’Donoghue also admitted a breach at the same hearing after pulling the pacemaker Red Rock Canyon away from the rail half a mile from home to allow Murtagh a clear passage on the winner Duke Or Marmalade. In this instance, O’Donoghue was playing Cosgrave to Murtagh’s Soumillon. Murtagh admitted they had planned the move and both he and O’Donoghue were banned. For seven days. Under Emirates rules, I would not expect the Cosgrave verdict to be overturned. The excessive punishment, on the other hand, is a different matter. To take away a man’s livelihood for something that might merit a slap on the wrist in other racing jurisdictions is just too harsh. And if the severity of the ban is not reduced on appeal, let’s just hope the BHA refuse to reciprocate the ban and Cosgrave is free to ride in Europe. It would be a big call, given Dubai’s status, but there is a precedent involving similarly stiff penalties meted out in India. Now which racing nation would Dubai rather be compared to? Britain or India?

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