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|Dobbin's leaving present was poor show by jockeys
| Greg Wood
The first thing to say about Michael McAlister's ride on Lord
Samposin at Carlisle last week is that he found himself in a place where few of
us would choose to be.
A few yards in front of
him, on the odds-on favourite Ballyvoge, was Tony Dobbin, just seconds away
from the end of a long and distinguished riding career. Off to his left was the
winner's enclosure, where dozens of Dobbin's friends from the weighing room
were hoping to lead the applause as he returned after one final victory. And
underneath him was a horse which, despite hitting several fences, was running
on stoutly while the favourite seemed to be looking for the line. What's a boy
McAlister's decision, in the opinion of the stewards, was to
take it easy on the run-in, thereby ensuring that the Dobbs Finale and Future
Best Wishes Novice Chase got the winner that everyone - in the weighing room,
at least - seemed to want. In particular, he switched his whip, even though
Lord Samposin was running as straight as an arrow, and let go of his reins in
This is something
that happens from time to time, as anyone who backed Giant's Causeway in the
2000 Breeders' Cup Classic knows. Mick Kinane got into the same sort of mess at
the same stage of the race, just as he was rousing his horse to maximum effort,
and no one would ever suggest it was anything but an unfortunately timed
McAlister's ride was different, though, if only because you
could sense the relief from the saddle every time Lord Samposin made a mistake.
The jockey noticeably upped his work-rate when his partner hit an obstacle,
presumably in the belief that his challenge had finally started to peter out.
Yet every time he did so, Lord Samposin responded willingly, which led him to
his excruciating moment of truth half a furlong out.
Perhaps it was all
just a mixture of illusion and misfortune, but if so, McAlister is the
unluckiest jockey in Europe. The odds against him dropping his reins in the
closing stages alone must be 100-1, which is beyond reasonable doubt never mind
the balance of probabilities, and that is before you factor in this race's
The Carlisle stewards referred the decision on
McAlister's punishment to the British Horseracing Authority's disciplinary
committee, and since he has effectively been found guilty of race-fixing, there
is little doubt he deserves a ban. But what the panel should also bear in mind
if and when they hand down their sentence - which could, in theory, be
suspension for many months - is that McAlister's offence is merely a symptom of
a deep-seated belief among many in the weighing room that the punters simply
It is why they feel they have the right to hand out the
odd race here and there, either to mark a significant retirement or as a "well
done" present for a brave return from serious injury. It is also why you will
frequently see horses given tender rides into fifth or sixth when they might
otherwise have made the frame. The consequences for betting-shop punters are
never considered and it is an attitude that needs to change.
thoroughbreds in races, particularly over fences, is one of the most demanding
and dangerous professions in sport, so it is little wonder that those involved
tend to stick together. But there is a difference between camaraderie and an
us-and-them approach which, in effect, uses those dangers as an excuse for the
occasional prize-giving ceremony.
The Jockeys Association recently
rebranded itself as the Professional Jockeys Association, and hopes to promote
its members as the sport's public face. It may take more than a slightly
different name, however, to guarantee the sort of automatic professionalism
that would not put a young jockey under such pressure to conform.
McAlister had a choice last Thursday, and he decided to be
unprofessional rather than risk being a pariah. He took the decision, and will
take the penalty too, but others must share the blame.