Stewards, disqualifications and breeding- a potted history

The disqualification of Dar Re Mi after her victory in the Prix Vermeille was a decision that ignored common sense (see video ). The failure of the appeal against the decision adds insult to the injury. Stacelita was awarded the race and thereby retained her unbeaten record. Cynics will argue that it is probably not a coincidence that Dar Re Mi is trained in Britain whereas Stacelita is French trained. Certainly looking at controversial disqualifications over the years it seems that throughout Europe, foreign trained runners seem to be disproportionately affected. From a breeding perspective the decision is not going to alter the mating plans for either Dar Re Mi or Stacelita both of whom are already multiple Group 1 winners and are guaranteed the best available stallions.  This is often the case with fillies, whereas for colts a Group 1 on the cv can have a huge impact on their stud prospects. It is interesting to look back and consider other ill-judged disqualifications and speculate as to the impact the stewards may have had on the thoroughbred breed.

Three of the worst stewarding decisions

1. The 1913 Derby

 The most sensational and outrageous disqualification is that of Craganour, first past the post in the 1913 Derby. The race is now remembered primarily for the death of the sufragette Emily Davison, but there was also sensational drama in the stewards room. The race was awarded to 100/1 shot Aboyeur, who like Craganour was a son of Desmond.  Craganour was an unlucky horse who had earlier been robbed of the 2000 Guineas by an incompetent judge.

The story of his disqualification in the Derby is even more unfortunate. It was a rough race that saw five horses pass the line in a blanket finish. However most accounts clearly label Aboyeur as the villain of the piece.  Aboyeur was a bad tempered brute who took a bite at Craganour, the mark of which was clearly visible on Cragnour. However amongst the stewards on the day was Eustace Loder who was determined to deny Craganour the most famous prize in racing.

His motives were complicated as ironically Loder was the breeder of Craganour. One suggestion was that he was annoyed at having sold the horse but more likely it was because he despised Bower Ismay, the owner of Craganour because of an affair between Ismay and Loder’s sister-in-law.  Ismay was also part of the shipping family that owned the White Star Line which at the time were deeply unpopular because of the Titanic disaster. Ismay was also a Harrovian and all the stewards were Etonians in a world where such things mattered. In a travesty of justice Eustace contrived to have the luckless Craganour disqualified and Aboyeur awarded the race. The chief witness for the prosecution was the jockey William Saxby who had been jocked off Craganour, so naturally his impartiality was open to question. Craganour was sold to Argentinan interests for £30,000 and never ran again (a condition of his sale). He subsequently did well in Argentina. We can only speculate how he would have fared in the UK. Aboyeur was beaten in both his subsequent starts, went to stud in Russia and disappeared after the Russian revolution. The disqualification may have been a major injustice but it probably had only a minor impact on breeding history.  Not surprisingly there isn’t a head on camera reel available but this link shows some great footage from  Epsom on that fateful day

2. The 1981 2000 Guineas.

( ). It is difficult to assess the merits of this disqualification from this video (Nureyev was placed last for bumping Posse) but it seriously annoyed Francois Boutin who felt that xenophobia played a role. Nureyev retired with nothing more lofty than a  Group 3 (the Prix Thomas Byron which he won on his 2 year old debut) on his cv, along with the Prix Djebel.

It didn’t stop Nureyev becoming one of the greatest sires of the age with 135 stakes winners from just over 800 foals (17%). His sole season in France left behind Theatrical and his subsequent move to Kentucky saw him leave sire champions across a range of distances such as Miesque, Sonic Lady, Spinning World, Reams of Verse, Soviet Star, Zilzal, Fasliyev,Peintre Celebre etc. He has also become a significant broodmare sire with the likes of Big Brown, Bago, Desert King and Zabeel in the Southern Hemisphere.

In contrast, Known Fact never scaled the same heights, despite retiring as a classic winner to complement his victory in the previous years Middle Park Stakes. From a similar number of foals he left  behind 53 stakes winners (7%). He is primarily remembered for the brilliant Warning and he also sired top class Markofdistinction and So Factual.

3.The 1988 Ascot Gold Cup:

 Another very controversial decision. French trained Royal Gait ridden by Cash Asmussen was undoubtedly the best horse in the race but was disqualified for interference with the unplaced El Conquistador. The race was then awarded to Sadeem. Royal Gait was a gelding so it had no impact on his stud career. He did achieve fame in another sphere when winning the Champion Hurdle for James Fanshawe in 1992. Sadeem won the race on merit in 1989 but failed in his attempt for further success in 1990. Sadeem did secure a place at stud but by the 1980’s stayers were deeply unfashionable for breeding purposes so having an additional Ascot Gold Cup on his cv made little difference to his prospects of stud success.

Technical Disqualifications-Major implications

1. Aliysa Affair

Outside of raceday disqualifications, disqualifications on technical grounds can often generate controversy. In recent years the most high profile incident involved the Aga Khan’s 1989 Oaks winner Aliysa. The Aga Khan subsequently produced  expert evidence that essentially showed that the horse doped itself and that there were flaws in the drug testing regime. However the disqualification was never likely to be reversed and Snow Bride was awarded the race. The Aga Khan withdrew all his horses from the UK and it was a number of years before he had a runner there and longer still before he again had horses in training in the UK. The loss of such a major owner had huge implications for may British trainers such as Luca Cumani and Michael Stoute and it undoubtedly changed bloodstock history as the Aga Khan focused on France and Ireland. Incidentally Snow Bride entered the history books as the dam of Derby, King George and Arc winner Lammtarra and Aliysa was dam of Craven Stakes winner Desert Story and grand-dam of Irish Derby and King George winner Alamshar.

2. Chamour Affair

The disqualification that almost had the greatest impact on modern horse breeding occurred in a modest race in 1960. Chamour trained by Vincent O’Brien had just won a race won a maiden but a dope test showed traces of an amphetamine derivative. O’Brien was disqualified for 18 months and his reputation was in tatters. He considered never training again. However legal action led to an apology from the Turf Club, a reduction in his suspension to 12 months and a change in the rules. The testing undertaken was described as ‘a woman with a bucket’ and the supposed trace that they found was considered by many to be beyond the capabilities of the equipment available at the time. It’s easy to imagine that the bowler hatted brigade were motivated by animosity towards the young genius whom they considered to be getting above his station. Vincent recounted how many years later one of the stewards responsible approached him with an outstretched hand and said “O’Brien I’ll forgive you if you’ll forgive me”. Vincent left the room without a word. It is difficult to imagine what the bloodstock world would now resemble, without the influence of the Master of Ballydoyle.

3. Sadler’s Wells the unknown sire!

The most unusual disqualification in recent years concerned subsequent Dewhurst winner Prince of Dance. From the first crop of Sadler’s Wells and out of Oaks winner Sun Princess he was disqualified after winning the Washington Singer Stakes. The race conditions required that the runners be sired by horses who had won over a mile and a half and as Sadler’s Wells had never won beyone 10 furlongs disqualification was automatic. It seems amazing that neither connections nor anyone on race day noticed this breach of the race conditions, particularly one involving such a prominent first season sire.


Stewards are human and accordingly their impartiality can sometimes be called into question-mostly by punters talking through their pockets. That said they have a difficult job to do and they get things right more often than not.  The standard of stewarding has definitely improved, significantly helped by improved camera technology and replays.The assistance of professional stewards has also helped the situation.  From a breeding prespective their decisions often have enormous financial consequences so it is unsurprising that they are frequently challenged and appealed. On a light hearted note, stewards are rarely mentioned in popular culture but they received a very unflattering reference in the Pogues song ‘Bottle of Smoke’!

“Stewards inquiries
Swift and fiery
I had the bottle of smoke
Inquisitions and suppositions
I had the bottle of smoke

Fuck the stewards
A trip to lourdes
Might give the old fuckers
The power of sight
Screaming springers and stoppers
And call out coppers
But the money still gleams in my hand like a light”

Rain helped this Parade

Last month, I wrote about the phenomenal success that Oasis Dream was enjoying. Not to be outdone, Pivotal has just had his own super Saturday. It was a potent reminder that he has earned the right to be considered the best sire in Britain and he isn’t going to easily relinquish that title to young pretenders Oasis Dream and Dansili.

Within the space of a few hours Pivotal was responsible for Emerald Commander who won a listed two year old race over a mile, the four year old colt Poet who won a Group 3 over 10 furlongs, Heaven Sent a 6 year old mare who finished runner in the Group one Matron Stakes over a mile and most significantly Regal Parade a five year old gelding who won the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup over 6 furlongs. Regal Parade became Pivotal’s 13th Group one winner and his second winner of the Haydock Sprint Cup after Somnus in 2003 (who in a neat twist defeated Oasis Dream) .

Pivotal’s Stud Career

Expectations were modest when Pivotal retired to his owners Cheveley Park Stud in 1996. After a six race career, he was the winner of a King’s Stand Stakes and a Nunthorpe Stakes (both over five furlongs) but his pedigree was deemed unremarkable. Breeders viewed him as a likely source of cheap speed. He has delivered that speed in abundance but he has also sired plenty of horses who stay much farther.  An interesting aspect of his stud career is the difference in aptitude between his fillies and his colts.  In general the top class fillies by Pivotal will win from a mile to twelve furlongs (Sariska,Chorist, Peeress, Megahertz, Golden Apples,Silvester Lady, Saoire) the top class colts are sprinters (Kyllachy, Somnus, Regal Parade) or milers (Excellent Art, Falco, Virtual).  What is common to his runners is a tendency to improve with age, an ability to handle cut in the ground (although soft ground is not essential as they win on all ground conditions), and what I believe might be called a will to win. It is difficult to prove a ‘will to win’ but it would be interesting to look at the stats for photo finishes involving offspring of Pivotal as I suspect they would have a better than 50% strike rate.

His success has seen his fee rise steeply to a height of £85000, before in a nod to the recession it was reduced to £65000 for the current season. Sheikh Mohammed was also impressed and paid an undisclosed sum for a significant share in the chestnut.  Pivotal is now enjoying the cream of the broodmare crop and he seems sure to capitalise on these chances.  It is still quite early to rate his prospects as a sire of sires as his best bred sons are yet to have runners.  To date Kyllachy has done reasonably well, whereas Captain Rio and Needwood Blade have failed to impress from the limited evidence available to date.  However the likes of Excellent Art, Falco and Windsor Knot are yet to have runners and we can expect plenty of Pivotal’s better sons to be given opportunities at stud over the coming years.

Regal Parade’s Career

Regal Parade has twice passed through the sales ring Tattersalls. As a yearling he fetched a whopping £430,000 to the bid of John Ferguson acting for Sheikh Mohammed. He was his sires top priced yearling of 2005 so clearly he was a good looking yearling.

Unraced at two, it might have seemed that this huge invesment would pay dividends when he won his first three starts as a three year old for Mark Johnston. Like so many from that stable he was kept busy and ran a further eight times that year. However success proved elusive and presumably he was not deemed worthy of a trip to Dubai. Therefore he was sent back to the same Tattersalls sales ring where second time round he fetched a much more modest £16,000 to the bid of Dandy Nicholls.

That money was recouped in the first season for Dandy. From 10 runs who won two major handicaps, the Buckingham at Royal Ascot and the Ayr Gold Cup. This season he has again been busy with 8 runs already. Significant improvement has occurred in the past few months and he ran creditably in the Golden Jubilee before winning Listed event at Chester in July over 7 furlongs. Kept to 7 furlongs he was placed in the Group 2 Betfair Cup and Hungerford Stakes.  Dropped back to six furlongs, there was no fluke about his defeat of Fleeting Spirit and High Standing. It will be interesting to see if he continues to improve and it was reported after the race that his next target is likely to be the 7 furlong Prix de la Foret.

Model Queen

Model Queen, the dam of Regal Parade ran six times for Khalid Abdullah and Barry Hills. She ran once at two finishing a promising third.  However it is likely that she showed some promise at home as she made her three year old reappearance in the Fred Darling Stakes, and she started at a mere 11/2.  She never threatened to win that day, but she did win her next race a 7 furlong Beverley maiden. She ran three more times but was deemed surplus to requirements by Juddmonte and was sold at Tattersalls December for £92000. Her price reflects the fact that she was a daughter of ultra fashionable Kingmambo from a top class Juddmonte family. Her dam Model Bride was unraced, but granddam Mofida has appeared in the pedigrees of a host of big winners. Mofida is the dam of Zaizafon who achieved fame as the dam of the brothers Zafonic and Zamindar. Another daughter of Mofida was the unraced Modena who was the dam of Oaks winner Reams of Verse and Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes winner Elmaamul. There are also plenty of other black type horses to help fill the page.

At stud Model Queen’s first mate was Fantastic Light and the outcome was the minor winner Sister Sylvia. Then came Pivotal and Regal Parade followed by a visit to Montjeu and a colt that cost Demi O’ Byrne 600,000 gns,. Subsequently named Mount Helicon he is now running over hurdles but he showed plenty of promise on the flat finishing a close 4th in Group 2 Prix Noailles behind Full of Gold and another 4th in a Group 3 behind Montmartre. More sales success has followed. Her 2006 Danehill Dancer colt named Canyon Ranch fetched 350000 gns and her 2007 Motivator colt name Hot Prospect (a three part brother to Mount Helicon) fetched 230000 gns. Hot Prospect made a promising debut at York in July and looks like he might live up to his name.


Regal Parade combines an outstanding sire with a dam from a celebrated Juddmonte family. His pedigree shows inbreeding to Nureyev 3×4 and he is the second Group winner from 5 foals by Pivotal out of Kingmambo mares. The other Group winner was Brazilian Bride who won the Group 3 Swordlestown Stakes at two and also finished fourth in the Phoenix and Moyglare Stakes. It is a cross that is likely to be tried more often in the coming years. Regal Parade is a typical son of Pivotal. He is best over shorter distances, he has won on a variety of grounds but is probably best with a little cut in the ground. He has improved with age, he takes his racing well and as a gelding we can anticipate watching him compete for some years to come. 


REGAL PARADE (GB) 2004 g ch

(GB) 1993
Falcon (USA) 1987
(USA) 1977
Dancer (CAN) 1961
(USA) 1969
D’argonne (FR) 1981
(GB) 1967
(FR) 1974
Revival (GB) 1987
(USA) 1980
(IRE) 1967
The Trails (USA) 1971
(GB) 1981
(GB) 1971
(GB) 1970
Queen (USA) 1998
(USA) 1990
Prospector (USA) 1970
A Native (USA) 1961
Digger (USA) 1962
(USA) 1984
(USA) 1977
(USA) 1979
Bride (USA) 1985
Groom (FR) 1974
God (USA) 1954
Bride (GB) 1962
(GB) 1974
Tack (GB) 1966
Lass (GB) 1960