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Bondi Beach awarded dramatic St Leger at Doncaster

12 Sep 2015

Bondi Beach has been awarded the St Leger in one of the most dramatic denouements to a British classic in many years.

St Leger

Bondi Beach (left) and Simple Verse (centre) fight out the St Leger (image courtesy of racingfotos.com)

It took a while, but Aidan O’Brien ultimately won his fifth St Leger on Saturday at Doncaster. Bondi Beach had initially been beaten a head by the filly Simple Verse, but following a lengthy Stewards Enquiry, shown live by Channel 4, the placings were reversed. It was deemed that interference between the pair, which happened when Andrea Atzeni pulled Simple Verse out two furlongs from the finish and again as she edged right well inside the final furlong, was enough to prevent what would have otherwise been a win for Bondi Beach.

In scenes that would have been better fitted to settling a courtroom drama than a Group 1 horse race, Colm O’Donoghue and Andrea Atzeni made their respective case to the Stewards, with O’Donoghue’s polished and forceful case eventually deemed to be enough. Atzeni, though not afraid to defend himself, was always on the back foot.

It turned what had promised to be no more than a coda to a thrilling finish into the main headline. On the track, Simple Verse and Bondi Beach had fought tooth and nail, the filly always looking to just have the edge after they’d gone past Storm The Stars, who travelled best but faded a furlong out, perhaps not quite getting the trip. Fields of Athenry had cut out the early running but proved one paced, eventually finishing fourth.

Though it was O’Donoghue who donned the famous cap given to St Leger-winning riders, this is not expected to be the end of the issue. Ralph Beckett, trainer of Simple Verse whose Secret Gesture also lost an American Grade 1 in similar circumstances last month, stated immediately after the amendment of the result came through that he intended to appeal.

But O’Donoghue remained adamant that his horse had suffered the most. “My horse was interfered with twice… I got bumped and had time to get back into it, then I got bumped again.” Asked by Mick Fitzgerald if the result was the right one, he responded in more guarded fashion: “It’s horseracing, Michael.”

Stipendiary steward Paul Baton was on hand afterwards to explain the decision. “Having concluded that Simple Verse had caused both instances [of interference], we then had to decide whether they had improved Simple Verse’s position. We decided that the combination of the two instances had influenced the result.

“In the room, the stewards have to be satisfied that they have reached the right opinion – not satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt, but satisfied – and I think they are and that the right decision has been reached.”