There has been a great deal of ado about three horses trained by
Luke McCarthy Craig Cross being scratched from the Newcastle Mile last Friday night after they arrived at the stabling area outside of the universally known and understood mandatory requirement for runners in NSW Group races to be on-course and stabled no later than two hours prior to the start time of their race.
McCarthy and his bowler Cross are screaming blue murder, their stable clients and supporters are crying foul, and for some inexplicable reason yesterday the Mark Purdon/Natalie Rasmussen All Stars Stable from New Zealand have weighed into the debate, issuing a confusing and contradictory statement conflating animal welfare issues with the entirely unrelated issue of deadlines for arrival on track.
Rasmussen/Purdon are demanding that Stewards invoke a discretion that the stipes don’t have and which doesn’t exist to allow trainers to turn up late, and threatening to keep their horses at home and not participate in this year’s Inter Dominion series unless the Stewards buckle to their cross-Tasman demands for the the rules of harness racing to be breached, just because they say they should.
My prediction is that the All Stars chime in to the debate will have the exact opposite effect to what Mark and Natalie intended, for I know a large number of harness racing people on both sides of the ditch who would love nothing more than for the most successful stable in Southern Hemisphere history to absent themselves from Australasia’s richest race series, and are likely to stridently support the strict two-hour rule if its retention results in the blue and white army staying away.
It does cause me some degree of concern for the health of our sport when two of its leading players seem neither to understand the rules, nor to respect the reasons why they were put in place, and why they must remain.
It also worries me more than somewhat why no-one is telling you that the fallen tree that blocked one lane of the three on the main arterial road in question was well and truly cleared by 3:00pm and that the traffic snarls that McCarthy encountered were nothing more than your stock standard Friday afternoon northboound Friday afternoon crawl, or asking the blindingly obvious question of why every other of the dozens of trainers traveling from the district where
McCarthy Cross’s horses are domiciled were able to make it to the course on time, and their horses weren’t.
I guess that’s no more puzzling than the riddle of why the Stewards would issue a fine to McCarthy as the purported Cross stable representative when the rules plainly state that it the actual trainer who must cop the fine, or why a driver of one horse in a major race is allowed to act as the representative for 2 of his rival runners in the race, or why the whispers are so loud suggesting that the requisite documents had not been signed and tendered to allow McCarthy any form of representative role at all.
Questions, questions, questions, and the mystery simply deeper by the hour.
One thing that is not a mystery is the reason why the 2 hour arrival rule is in place and why it is no strictly applied, although the seeming lack of support from extraordinarily successful stables for the eminently sensible and reasonable measure certainly is.
Let me tell you in one simple word why the rule is there dopeys.
Horses hit with substances that artificially spike their red blood cell counts – things like EPO or bicarb or peptides or a whole host of other blood doping agents – can run at top speed for longer than their rivals that race clean. If you need any convincing just look at trainer shonky Shaun Simiana and his former star pacer Balraj, and all will become crystal clear.
Horses that can run faster for longer will beat horses of the same class and ability that race clean 99 out of 100 times that they meet, and the once that they don’t is usually because due to either over-training or over-exertion or both they break down.
Take a look at how many horses from extraordinarily successful stables go amiss and spend long periods off the track – or in some cases die – and you explain why to me. I promise anyone I will print their explanation unadulterated and unedited, provided they are prepared to put their name or names to it.
Back to the two hour rule.
In these heady days of drenches and masking and micro doses the most effective way to your horse up – Robert Smerdon and co, remember them? – is to hit them between 1-2 hours prior to their race. That’s why Smerdon’s man Greg Nelligan was hitting the horse in the stalls while he thought the world was watching Winx on the day he got busted and the whole corruption-laden Aquanita empire fell down.
Nelligan didn’t count on a casual employed security guard with no interest in racing or great race horses using the Winx distraction as an opportunity to duck down the back of the stables to sneak a smoke, and he and his merry band of cheating bossed paid the price, or the ones that weren’t running race clubs and major vet clinics did anyway.
A whole lot of people learned a real big lesson from Aquanita’s fall though, and switched immediately from the high risk practice of hitting their horses on course to the much safer strategy of dosing them in the float.
And that, in very simple and basic terms, is why all trainers in big races must have their horses present and accounted for in the secure and security monitored on-course stabling area at least two hours before kick off time, and why there are no exceptions made for anyone at all.
Of course if a minnow like me who owns but half a dozen horses knows this, then clearly the McCarthy’s, Cross’s, Rasmussen’s and M. Purdon’s of the world do too.
In my view it is a tragedy that the leading participants in our sport fail to support the Stewards efforts to keep the code squeaky clean, even if it means that sometimes things go wrong and luck doesn’t fall their way.
That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, but it doesn’t mean we should bend the rules and throw a vital and necessarily rigid measure to stop dopers and doping clean away.
I will leave it at that, and allow you to form your own judgement about whether the 2 hour rule is the best thing that ever happened to harness racing, or a millstone that’s weight is dragging us all into the murky mire.