14 September 2003

Reputations are redeemed at Doncaster as the favourite lands a much-needed Classic win for jockey Jamie Spencer

Never hasten to condemn young people or young horses with talent. Brian Boru and High Accolade, two three-year-olds whom many of us have criticised this season, fought out an admirably committed finish at the end of a ruthlessly run Seabiscuit St Leger at Doncaster.

With a horse called Gold Medallist electing to live up to his name from the start, the field was immediately stretched into a gallop good enough to give a final clocking only two seconds outside the record at three minutes 4.63secs for the mile and three quarter trip.

With a fair even pace, both Brian Boru and High Accolade were settled at the back. You could not condemn the pair for that but when Martin Dwyer’s whip came up for three hefty cracks on the final turn it looked as if High Accolade, at least, would again deserve another query on his school report. But in this case corporal punishment was the answer and as we began to scan the new challengers looming around the leader, headed by the impressively moving Maharib, it was High Accolade who swept up going better than anything – bar the still motionless dark-blue silked figure of Jamie Spencer on Brian Boru behind him.

It was the time of truth. For horses and for jockeys too. Martin Dwyer had been part of Persian Punch’s epic Doncaster Cup victory on Thursday, but 23-year-old Spencer needed this first English Classic success to erase a slight feeling of unease about his progress from the dazzling early promise which saw him win the Irish 1,000 Guineas when he was a 17-year-old still at school. Not all top assignments, most notably last year’s 2,000 Guineas second on Hawk Wing, had escaped criticism. Brian Boru offered Ballydoyle redemption. Spencer had to keep his cool.

He’s a boy no more. He brought Brian Boru outside High Accolade and, with a good two furlongs to travel, he set his bay partner down to what was potentially a four-horse battle along with Maharib and Phoenix Reach. For almost 200 yards High Accolade held him with admirable if hitherto unsuspected resolve, the pair gradually asserting themselves over Maharib. Brian Boru has an ungainly high head carriage, but when Spencer’s whip came up, Brian Boru answered. In the last 100 yards they went a full length to the good with Phoenix Reach sticking on to be third, Maharib weakening fractionally to be fourth and the filly Moments of Joy staying on to be fourth.

Before the Derby, in which he finished a miserable 16th, Brian Boru had looked sweaty and upset. He was much calmer in the preliminaries yesterday and afterwards trainer Aidan O’Brien was at pains to take the blame on his slender shoulders. “This spring we tried some different things with the horses,” he said, “gave them a different outline. It turned out the wrong thing and it took time to get them back. But this is a fine galloping horse and he might easily go with the other feller [High Chaparral] for the Arc next month.”

Granted stable jockey Michael Kinane (third in the Irish St Leger on Powerscourt yesterday) will be on High Chaparral, Spencer would no doubt be happy to take the Ballydoyle call once again. But even victory at Longchamp could not better what yesterday’s Classic meant to him both professionally and personally. “I am very happy for myself,” he said, “but I would like to dedicate it to Kieron Kelly [the Irish jockey killed racing last month]. It was a Classic for a classic fella.”

It was a beautiful touch that brings nothing but credit to the riding profession which in an earlier life, I was honoured to call my own. Unhappily I cannot apply the same sentiments to today’s jockeys’ strike at Sandown over the new restrictions on the use of mobile phones in the changing rooms.

Of course the negotiations have been badly handled by the regulatory body but the idea that this justifies the jockeys to inflict hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage on the industry would be laughable if it were not such a disgrace, with the champion jockey even publicly threatening the future of anyone who took up an option to ride tomorrow.

The Jockey Club, having received a report headed by a senior policeman that mobile phone calls should be restricted, have no option but to take some action. Six months ago a senior, and now vocally protesting jockey, admitted to me the distraction of many calls received in the changing room. Mistakes have clearly been made by both parties, one apparent agreement last month has somehow disintegrated. But the concept that, unlike most other countries, it is a jockey’s human right to have access to any caller who may or may not have an account with a betting exchange and may or may not offer temptation seems to me little short of ridiculous.

This is something that needs talking through for as long as it takes. The jockeys have a case to put, but this should never be a course for strike action and the apparent intimidation should be openly condemned by all concerned and those culpable robustly disciplined. All of us may row with the Jockey Club from time to time but they are entrusted with regulation, not the jockeys themselves. It is enough, and I hoped I would never come to write this, to make me hang my head in shame.


Vinnie Roe secured his place in Irish racing history at The Curragh yesterday by taking an unprecedented third Irish Field St Leger.

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