THE narrowest of defeats in the 150-year history of the Melbourne Cup may well have saved the now internationally-prized event from a whip-induced controversy.
In a stirring finish to the richest thoroughbred handicap in the world, the French stayer Dunaden rallied to beat the British raider Red Cadeaux at Flemington two days ago. The smallest official margin in racing is a nose but it may well have been a nostril-hair.
A boisterous crowd of 105,000 was silent as the raceday judge took just over two minutes before declaring a French horse had won the Cup for the second year in a row. Shortly after correct weight was declared, the Racing Victoria stewards called Red Cadeaux's jockey, Australian Michael Rodd, to their room and proceeded to fine the Melbourne Cup-winning rider $1000 for two counts of breaching the whip rules.
Rodd was caught striking Red Cadeaux two more times than permissible and for also breaching the consecutive hits limit. Had the judge not separated the pair and a dead-heat been declared, connections of Dunaden would have had grounds for a protest.
''It comes down to the old story - does two whip strikes make a difference to the finish?'' Racing Victoria chief steward Terry Bailey told the Herald yesterday. ''Fortunately we haven't been faced with a protest before.'' Bailey said the protest option was included in the whip laws to ensure riders flagrantly breaching the rules are not rewarded.
''If the bloke throws the whip rules out the window in a finish, gives it 18 hits down the running, you would look at it,'' Bailey said.
''If the bloke gave it 18 and won by a head he'd have to give a pretty good argument as to why he should retain the race.''
In last year's Australian Cup, southern stewards fined jockey Nicholas Hall $1000 for breaching the whip rule. Hall's mount Zipping beat the Bart Cummings-trained Sirmione by a nose with the jockey found to have struck his mount 10 times before the 100-mark, which is twice the permitted amount.
''We look at the film but it is not our position to encourage connections to protest,'' Bailey said.
''That has always been the difficultly with the whip business. From our perspective it is a matter for connections. It is within their rights to have a look at the race film before correct weight is given.
''We can't exactly encourage them to protest, we are the blokes to adjudicate on it.''
Last Tuesday, Hall, Darren Beadman, Dean Holland and Steven King were all fined for breaching the whip rule in minor races with the latter hit twice. The penalties ranged from $200 to $400.
''At day-in day-out race meetings overall the jockeys have adapted to the whip rules,'' Bailey said.
''At the Cox Plate meeting and the Caulfield carnival we hardly had an issue, although Nick Hall was fined $5000 for breaching the rule in the Caulfield Cup. It was the third time he had breached the rules in a group 1 race.''
Rodd's overall record in regard to breaching the whip rule was taken into account when issuing the $1000 Melbourne Cup fine, while Bailey revealed a steward at Flemington on Tuesday had the sole job of watching jockeys' whip use in the 10 races.
''He watched the races live in the stewards' room and informed us who was possibly in breach after each race and we checked them,'' Bailey said. ''We couldn't possibly do it any other way on a big day like that.''
Bailey has no doubt huge carnival fields, increased prizemoney and the Flemington layout all lead to jockeys overstepping the mark.
''Where the temptation is great is at Flemington with the longer run in to the winning post,'' Bailey said. ''Obviously the stakes are high and, combined with the geographics, the lay at Flemington, it can lead to breaches of the whip rule.''