The question of what, exactly, a horse and rider must do to an opponent to be disqualified from first place raises itself again, following news from France on Thursday evening. The connections of Romanised, the narrow runner-up in the Prix du Moulin 12 days ago, have failed in their appeal against the decision to allow Circus Maximus to keep the race.
Romanised, who is trained by Ken Condon in Ireland, took the Prix Jacques le Marois in August and appeared to be on the verge of a swift Group One double approaching the final furlong of the Moulin as he moved alongside Circus Maximus and Ryan Moore. Circus Maximus then started to drift to his left, carrying Romanised with him.
Having been shifted several horse-widths across the course, Romanised was still just a nose behind Circus Maximus at the line – but the Longchamp stewards did not take further action. Condon also suggested this week that he felt Romanised had received a bump close to the line, forcing him to switch leads and lose more vital momentum.
Until the end of 2017, Romanised would have been highly likely to get the win on the day in these circumstances. Until then, France was the last major racing nation which used a “Category 2” interpretation of interference. Under it, demotion for the horse causing the problems, to behind the runner it had impeded, was largely automatic.
In 2018, however, France joined Britain, Ireland, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan in taking a “Category 1” approach. This means the stewards must be satisfied that a horse causing interference has improved its placing as a result before they will order the placings to be amended.
Category 1 tends to be seen as the more punter (and spectator) friendly way to proceed, as it reduces the number of amendments and helps to stop easy, worthy winners being disqualified for interference early in a race. These still crop up with some regularity in the US, where major jurisdictions retain a Category 2 approach.
But it does not stop disqualifications altogether and the significant distance that Circus Maximus appeared to have carried Romanised across the course, allied to the extremely narrow margin of victory, looked like very strong grounds for a reversal of the placings to many observers on the day.
The stewards decided that the two horses had drifted left largely independently and used footage from a camera inside the track to conclude that Circus Maximus was finishing faster at the line. As a result, they could not be satisfied that he would have finished second but for the interference in the closing stages.
Thursday’s appeal, according to a press release from France Galop on Thursday evening, “was heard in a fair play atmosphere”, but added that their stewards, “after showing all the views of the incident and hearing both parties make their points in detail,” allowed the original result to stand.
“Having considered the way both horses had progressed, their behaviour in the latter stages of the race … [France Galop] decided that the result should be allowed to stand, since there was not sufficient evidence that Romanised would have beaten Circus Maximus if there had been no interference at all.”
It is in the nature of the game that those who disagreed with the original decision – including Romanised’s backers – are unlikely to be won around by the news that a second panel has supported the view of the first. This particular case also looked as finely-balanced as they come.
Ultimately, though, while occasional controversies are inevitable even under a Category 1 regime, the overall level of punter discontent with decisions where interference has been caused is much lower than it would be if worthy winners were being thrown out on a regular basis.