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 www.youtube.com/watch?v=omn4ebLJoLY ). 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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdz1ydrpfyI.

2. The 1981 2000 Guineas.

( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4urs_h4MeLs ). 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.

Conclusion:

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”

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