The memory of Harchibald’s extraordinary performance in the 2005 Champion Hurdle was used on Thursday as part of a successful defence in a “non-trier” case. The tactics used by his jockey, Paul Carberry, which were hotly debated at the time, were recalled by the barrister Graeme McPherson QC as an example of how a jockey’s tactics can only be understood with the benefit of knowledge about the horse.
“We can all be armchair jockeys,” said McPherson, who is also a trainer. “We can all say, ‘Why isn’t he doing X or Y?’
“One could ask the questions of that ride. ‘Mr Carberry, why on Earth aren’t you asking for Harchibald’s effort until the last 50 yards?’ But we all know the answer because that horse had done it time and again, he was lairy about going past and had to be delivered on the line.”
McPherson extended that argument to Thursday’s appeal in the case of Beaufort, who was beaten 76 lengths into 13th place in a Newbury maiden hurdle a fortnight ago, which the raceday stewards ruled was in breach of the rules, as the horse was in rear from the outset under a quiet ride. McPherson argued the ride had to be understood in the context of a horse that had fared poorly in his first few efforts over hurdles, failing to settle and tiring long before the finish.
“Newbury was not about the future,” he said. “It was about, ‘If I can get this horse to settle, I will have the best chance of achieving the best possible placing. We’ve tried it from the front and it didn’t work.’ He wasn’t there to learn to settle. He was there to be ridden in a way that would get him to settle, because that was how he would achieve the best possible placing.
“The stewards are entitled to ask questions. But the British Horseracing Authority can’t simply ignore the reasons given.”
McPherson was arguing on behalf of Beaufort’s trainer, Warren Greatrex, and was successful in persuading a disciplinary panel that this was not a deliberate case of schooling or conditioning. Greatrex had said in evidence it would have been “crazy” to put such a horse in a 16-runner contest at Newbury if the aim was merely to get him jumping better. Nor could handicapping be the aim, as the horse had already been given a low rating. The trainer’s fine of £3,000 was quashed.
However, the panel still felt that the ride by Gavin Sheehan fell short of what was required, while accepting this was through negligence rather than a deliberate act and that Beaufort was a difficult ride, with his high head carriage, manifest reluctance to line up at the start and general lack of ability. It halved the jockey’s ban from 14 days to seven. “There was a failure by Mr Sheehan to call for, and most importantly to be seen to call for, the substantial effort that the rules demand,” said the panel chairman, Tim Charlton QC.
“His failure was not excused by the many difficulties with which we accept he was presented by this horse. There were all sorts of problems he had. That said, we recognise it is a case for a proper penalty as he’s an experienced rider and must be taken to know that a ride complying with the basic element of F(37) has to be given and to be seen to be given. And it wasn’t.”