09/13/2009 11:26PM

Shaken and Stirred


There must be something wrong with me. This should not be a problem. I do not know why it sticks in my craw. Maybe someone can tell me why. Here goes:

The St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster on Saturday was a grand event. I never thought the day would come that I would be able to kick back with my orange juice and enjoy a British classic in robe and slippers on the old video before commencing the yardwork. Thank you TVG and HRTV. (Of course, I never thought I would not be able to watch the Woodward Stakes on one of the major networks, but that's another channel.) As for the significance of the St. Leger on these shores, bear in mind Conduit won last year's running and came right back to take the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

After a mile, six furlongs and 132 yards the St. Leger came down to a head bob won by Mastery over Kite Wood. The fact that both colts are owned by Godolphin occurred to me only briefly in the heat of the battle. That sort of thing tends to happen often enough, and it's no big deal, given the depth of the Godolphin talent pool. Mastery was 14-1 and Kite Wood was the 9-4 favorite, which for some may be problematic, since the coupling or uncoupling of horses owned and trained by the same people is a sticky issue without simple resolve.

And then it happened. Galloping out after the hard-fought race, which apparently lasted so long that a final time was never posted (evidence there will always be an England), the two Godolphin jockeys reached out to share a congratulatory handshake. If it didn't look so bad it would have been touching.


Good sportsmanship should never be discouraged. No doubt there was honest, adrenalin-fueled sentiment behind the gesture. Frankie Dettori, a five-time St. Leger winner who rode Kite Wood, is not exactly a shy violet about post-race displays, while Ted Durcan, aboard Mastery, was winning his first St. Leger. And good for him. In fact, it was Dettori who extended his hand, and Durcan could hardly let it hang. But a more subtle gesture might have been appropriate between teammates, at least in consideration of those folks who took the 9-4 on the beaten half.

"I think it would definitely raise eyebrows here," said Scott Chaney, who will be in the stewards stand at Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup. "There was a case at Del Mar, when cousins Michael and Tyler Baze ran one-two and high-fived each other after the wire. Their horses were not stablemates--they were just happy. But I think any displays like that between riders are inappropriate. If nothing else, the perception is bad. Certainly, we'd call the riders up and express our displeasure."

For those who think this is nitpicking, it probably is. It would take a pair of certified jokers to congratulate each other in full view after pulling off a betting coup. Jockeys live and die by each other's abilities. It is hard to fathom a sport that requires such dangerous, close-order competition among athletes who are also likely to be very good friends. But appearances in a sanctioned, pari-mutuel sport are as important as stark reality. I asked a retired Hall of Fame jockey to appraise my concerns, and she said that, quite simply, sometimes out there in the heat of the moment you forget there's anyone watching. Still, as Jose Santos and Pat Day discovered in the wake of the 2003 Kentucky Derby, the microscope never sleeps, and a simple horseback handshake pulling up after an intense, widely gambled event can be taken for anything but.