It was refreshing to read Johnny Murtagh’s comments from the Juddmonte as reported in the Sunday Times. Far from the usual denials and no comment on accusations of team tactics, Murtagh divulges all. Explaining the team’s tactics, he goes on to say “it’s what Ballydoyle is all about”, suggesting that these type of tactics are the norm. Tony Coleman champions the tactics in his article – “a striking example of the teamwork that epitomises O’Brien’s Ballydoyle operation” – and he goes on to compare the Ballydoyle team effort to the team pursuit in cycling, with Johnny Murtagh sitting first wheel.
Of course there’s nothing in Murtagh’s admission that wasn’t obvious to horse racing enthusiasts around the country, but it moves the argument along. No longer can the BHA question whether or not these are team tactics – that box is now ticked. The BHA rules are laid out in black and white, and Ballydoyle are openly in contravention of them*. What will the BHA do? They have to do something – they cannot win the argument as things stand. They must change the rule or enforce it.
This rule is absolutely fundamental in preserving integrity in horse racing. A code that hands an advantage to the bigger players (i.e. those who are able to field multiple entries) is unacceptable and unfair. Murtagh made light of the issue in a follow up interview but he was wrong to do so – horse racing is not a team sport and it should stay that way.
* Murtagh said “… I said to him (Colm O’Donoghue) ‘When you get to the four marker just ease off and give me the passage through'”. Rule 153. (iv) states; A Rider shall not make a manoeuvre in a race in the interests of another horse in common ownership or under common control or from the same stable… Clearly Red Rock Canyon, in pulling off the rail when he did, made a manoeuvre in the interests of Duke of Marmalade.