Kevin Blake

The day after a controversial Prix du Moulin at Longchamp, leading racing writer Kevin Blake outlines why the French Group 1 went the way of the wrong horse.

  • Monday 09 September
  • Blog
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CONTROVERSIAL MOULIN DECISION HIGHLIGHTS UNFAIR RULES

There was a huge amount of controversy following the conclusion of the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp on Sunday. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Circus Maximus beat the Ken Condon-trained Romanised by a nose, but he had to survive a stewards’ inquiry having drifted left and bumped his nearest pursuer inside the final furlong.

The stewards’ decision to leave the result unchanged was one that very much split public opinion. Just how contentious it was is illustrated by the result of this poll which I ran on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

Since April 2018, French racing has come into line with most of the world of horse racing on interference rules, the most notable exception being America, by implementing what are known as Category 1 rules.

Despite some confusion in the British and Irish racing media as to what the new rules are, they are essentially the same as those in Britain and Ireland. The stewards in France can now only amend a result in one of two scenarios:

Firstly, and most commonly, they can change a result when they adjudge that the victim of interference would on the balance of probabilities have finished in front of the horse that interfered with them had the interference not occurred.

More rarely, they can disqualify a horse whose rider has caused interference to another horse via what is judged to be dangerous riding, regardless of where the sufferer was likely to have finished had the interference not occurred.

Given that there was clearly no dangerous riding in this case, it is within the context of the first scenario that the closing stages of this race must be considered.

Before making a conclusion, it should be remembered that the rules state very clearly in France (and indeed in Britain and Ireland) that no allowance should be given to Circus Maximus for the ground he cost himself by coming off a true line.

It is also irrelevant that Ryan Moore did not commit a riding offence and did his best to correct Circus Maximus. That is only relevant to how the stewards deal with Moore, not to the question of deciding whether the result was affected by the interference.

If you haven’t already seen it, here is the head-on view that shows the relevant interference so that you can draw your own conclusions.

So, what do I think?

Frankly, I thought this was a truly terrible decision by the French stewards. This was an easy call to reverse the placings, yet they went the wrong way.

How any competent race reader could view the closing stages from all the available angles and conclude that Romanised was not cost at least the margin of a nose by the interference he suffered in the straight is staggering to me.

Based on the freeze frame at the winning post, we are likely dealing with a margin of a few centimetres here. Pythagoras' Theorem tends to surprise many in horse racing by revealing that much less ground is lost by moving off a straight line over a relatively long distance than one might imagine.

In this case, Romanised being shifted approximately five metres to his left over the course of 300 metres may only have cost him in the region of four centimetres. However, the Theorem is purely mathematical and does not account for the lost impetus, balance and rhythm that is so relevant in a horse race.

Thus, there would have been a clear case to be made for a reversal based solely on Circus Maximus carrying Romanised so far off a straight line in the closing stages, but what really should have sealed the deal beyond any reasonable doubt was the bump between them instigated by Circus Maximus approximately 80 metres from the line.

Not only did the bump seem to visibly cost Romanised ground, it caused him to change his legs upon impact. The bump also seemed to interrupt Billy Lee’s riding rhythm, as just before it Lee seemed intent on using his whip at least once more, but the impact of the bump caused him to put his whip hand back on the reins to prevent Romanised being pushed even further left.

Despite all of this, Romanised very much seemed to be coming back at Circus Maximus at the line and might well have been in front of him in another stride or two.

Again, how anyone could think that the result should stand after all of that really is beyond me. This was a clear-cut case for a reversal. Not only did the stewards make what I feel was the wrong decision, they did so having spent remarkably little time considering the matter.

From when the horses crossed the finishing line, it was just nine-and-a-half minutes later that the stewards announced that no alteration had been made to the placings. That is an incredibly short time to spend deliberating considering it was such a contentious case involving fine margins.

The Romanised team now plan to appeal the decision, but they shouldn’t have had to. Justice should have prevailed on the day.

In terms of the bigger picture, what the race and the decision of the stewards has done is show the crucial flaw in the Category 1 rules governing interference. The rules are designed to ensure that the best horse on the day is declared the winner. Yet, through no fault of his own or his rider, Romanised was denied his fair chance to prove himself to be the best horse on the day, but the rules offered him and his connections no justice in the stewards’ room.

In my opinion, that is fundamentally wrong and unfair.

France previously raced under what are known as Category 2 rules whereby any interference resulted in the offender being placed behind the sufferer regardless of their individual circumstances. This occasionally resulted in what were considered very unsatisfactory amendments to results with clear winners being placed behind a well-beaten horse that they interfered with on the way to victory.

Had Category 2 rules been in place on Sunday, not only would Circus Maximus have been all-but certain to have been placed behind Romanised, he might have been placed behind ninth-placed Delaware who he squeezed out when initially shifting to his left.

Indeed, the third-placed Line Of Duty might well have had a claim for foul as he was carried even wider than Romanised due to the concertina effect caused by Circus Maximus drifting left.

For all their occasional shortcomings, what those old rules did brilliantly was ensure that jockeys took every possible measure to prevent their horses from interfering with others as they knew there were severe consequences for doing so.

Under the current interpretation of the Category 1 rules in France, Britain and Ireland, that deterrent doesn’t exist. Indeed, the rules are interpreted so weakly that riders regularly seem to deliberately cause interference and cross their rivals in an effort to make sure of victory, safe in the knowledge that as long as the winning margin isn’t tight there is next to no chance of the result being amended.

As has been stated on multiple occasions over the course of many years in this space, interpreting the rules in a manner that enables so much interference in Britain, Ireland and France is asking for serious trouble.

Justice was the victim of the rules at Longchamp on Sunday, but some day it will be a jockey that is the victim, maybe a horse. It will be tragic if it takes a rider/horse getting mangled or killed to highlight just how dangerous the current rules really are.

Kevin Blake
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