To Protest or not

By Todd Burmester

Controversial protest decisions have been a bugbear of mine for a while now. The most memorable one in recent years that took my attention was when Driefontein took the Magic Millions from stablemate No Looking Back. On that day, I was adamant that this was the wrong decision. There have been a few since that I have seriously wondered about, but none more so than in the first race on Saturday when Liberation was denied victory on protest from the rider on Press Report.

As a quick review of the race, Liberation was ridden with intent to find the front and did so. Around the turn, the horse put up a good kick, and had a clear lead at the 150m mark, when it decided to run out sharply. In the stewards room, it was deemed that this wayward manner had interfered with the chances of Press Report, and the stewards were of the opinion that without Liberation running out, Press Report would have won the race.

How they formed this decision, I have no idea. Interestingly Mark Sheehan who was calling the race mentioned Press Report was under the whip and trying hard but making no impression or words to that effect. Sheehan has seen a race or two in his time, so I don’t think we should write off his opinion as misguided.

To the credit of Winona Costin on Press Report, I do have to give it to her for a “clever” effort to ride her horse vigorously over the closing stages to get as close as she could to the winner, who clearly lost momentum when it ran about. The point here is though, the winner cost itself ground, but in no way to my eye appeared to cost the runner up any ground. At the time the alleged interference occurred, Liberation looked to be sufficiently clear of Press Report and entitle it to use as much of the track as it wanted to. This was also the argument put forward in the stewards room.

Although I was not one of them, plenty of punters found yet another way to lose their money when the decision came through. Various corporate bookmakers pay out on both runners when a protest is upheld, and it makes me wonder, is this the only “safe” way to bet anymore, when we have to rely upon decisions such as this? Obviously the TAB cannot introduce a payout on both runners in their parimutuel betting, so there can never really be a level playing field for the poor old punter to choose where they bet, and trust they will be paid when their horse is first past the post.

Maybe there should be some sort of radical change, by which upheld protest decisions only impact the payment of prizemoney to connections, but wagers are all settled however they finish across the line. It sounds a bit crazy when you first think about it, but upon reflection, if you bet on a greyhound that gets skittled by another runner, there is no grounds for protest to change the result.