THE man who rubbed out the Fine Cotton cast, the steward responsible for ousting a trio of riders involved in the "jockey tapes affair" believes the world’s leading navigator, John Murtagh, had a "brain explosion" on Septimus in Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup.
"With the experience Murtagh has had in Australia and Hong Kong, he obviously had a brain explosion," former Australian Jockey Club and Hong Kong Jockey Club chairman of stewards John Schreck told the Herald yesterday.
"I thought he was a really good jockey but it was a poor display. It was a very disappointing ride for a supposedly top jockey. It is one he should be have been ashamed of."
Following the Cup fiasco, Murtagh was dragged into the Racing Victoria stewards’ room at Flemington along with fellow Irish riders Wayne Lordan (Alessandro Volta) and Colm O’Donoghue (Honolulu), while the trainer of the three stayers, Aidan O’Brien, was summoned back to the racetrack.
Stewards were concerned about team-riding tactics being employed on the three thoroughbreds, and chief steward Terry Bailey asked if the jockeys had given their mounts all reasonable and permissible measures to finish in the best possible place.
Alessandro Volta and Honolulu led the charge out of the straight the first time, with Septimus tucked in behind. The horses opened up a six-length break, with Bailey pointing out the first 1600 metres of the 3200m race was run five seconds quicker than last year, when O’Brien’s stayer Mahler finished third.
As an interested observer, Schreck believes Murtagh should have looked after the horse more. Racing Victoria veterinarians found Septimus to be sore in front after the race, while Honolulu was slightly lame in the near foreleg.
"With the weight Septimus had, it hadn’t raced for a while, it was running on a firm track and the speed it was running, he [Murtagh] didn’t consider the horse at all," Schreck said.
Kiwi trainer Steve McKee, whose New Zealand Oaks winner Boundless was forced to take the pace up to the tearaways before wilting to finish 15th, was astounded at the tactics employed.
"What arrogance," McKee said. "To have three horses leading by that far, who do they think they are? Do they think it is that easy to win the Melbourne Cup?"
Melbourne Cup hero Bart Cummings, who celebrated a 12th victory courtesy of Viewed outstaying British raider Bauer in a thriller, reflected on the Irish tactics yesterday morning.
"They must believe their own publicity," Cummings said. "I can’t believe what they did. If they were making the pace for the topweight [Septimus], why was he up there with them? He should have been 10 lengths further back."
Septimus finished 18th after making it to the home bend, while Alessandro Volta beat Honolulu home for last place among the 21 finishers.
"They say they jarred up – it is no good blaming the track, they should blame themselves," Cummings said. "Viewed likes the sting out of the ground. He got the same track they got and he pulled up good, no problems. We have no complaints."
O’Brien appeared incensed that stewards asked him about instructions issued to each jockey in a bid to explain the trio’s poor performances. The trainer, who has racked up 22 group 1 winners around the world this year, told stewards the inquiry would not have happened had Alessandro Volta pulled up sore. The Irishman said the track was like concrete, and he had considered scratching the horses after the second race.
"We have done our best and didn’t get it right. Who knows what was going to happen," he said.
O’Brien defended the rides of all three jockeys and stressed to stewards a genuine pace was required and that he had signalled to the world what tactics would be used. He warned any punishment to his jockeys or him would be "nonsense" and told Bailey: "You just need to have a good think about it." No action was taken but Schreck had no doubt the trainer and jockeys had to be grilled. "It would have been terrible if they weren’t asked questions," he said.
"It was absolutely essential questions be asked. At the end of it, two horses pulled up sore, and there was no way you do anything about it, charges could not be sustained."