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Blast from the Past: 2013 Falmouth Stakes

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Nick Seddon remembers the controversial 2013 renewal of the Falmouth Stakes, which resulted in a Stewards’ Enquiry and an unsuccessful appeal.

If the number of runners in a race is supposed to serve as a clue as to how much excitement it will generate, the four-strong 2013 renewal of the Falmouth proved to be a red-herring, producing an incident-strewn finish which led to a highly dramatic, televised Stewards’ Enquiry and a subsequent appeal by connections of the runners-up six days later.

A small but select field went to post for the Group 1 contest, headed by the three-year-old Sky Lantern, who was facing older rivals for the first time. She was joined by the 1-2 from the previous year, the French raider Giofra and John Gosden’s Elusive Kate, and the line-up was completed by the unfancied Purr Along.

Sky Lantern came into the Falmouth on the back of a Group 1 double, having won the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and following up in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, with Purr Along back in eighth in the latter race. Sky Lantern’s consistency and straightforward nature, combined with her most recent win, had set her out as the leading miling filly of her generation, and receiving 9 lb from the older fillies, she was a strong 7/4-on favourite for the race.

Sky Lantern’s biggest test looked likely to come from Elusive Kate, who was the only pace angle in the small field, hinting that it was to be a highly tactical contest. William Buick’s mount had finished second the previous year on soft ground, before going on to take the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville later that season.  

As expected, tactics were crucial, with Buick setting a slow tempo on Elusive Kate, quickening only after the three furlong marker. Sky Lantern stalked her rival throughout under Richard Hughes, and made her move two furlongs from home, but she was unable to pass her game rival, who dug deep all the way to the line to score by a neck, with the other two runners unable to land a telling blow, Giofra some two lengths back in third.

It was a controversial final two furlongs, though, as whilst Sky Lantern was unable to pass her opponent - having seemingly had every opportunity to do so - she was carried across the track by Elusive Kate, who drifted markedly left under pressure throughout the closing stages. Sky Lantern was seemingly intimidated, leading to a dramatic and extended Stewards’ Enquiry – televised live on Channel 4.

A clearly aggrieved Hughes argued that Buick had twice struck his mount on the head in the closing stages, intimidating his less-experienced mount and providing Elusive Kate with an unfair advantage. It was a lengthy and heated exchange lasting 15 minutes, but the Stewards decided that it could not be stated with any certainty that Elusive Kate improved her position unfairly, and the result stood.

The saga rolled on, however, and the result was appealed, leading to a hearing six days later which lasted three hours. The race was scrutinised in every detail, though the result remained unaltered and Sky Lantern’s connections lost their £500 deposit – a hint that the appeal was felt to be unjustified. As Racehorses of 2013 explained at the time:

“The scales of justice in Britain are weighted more than they are in some other countries against horses who suffer interference, with the BHA’s Procedures and Penalties specifying that `the benefit of the doubt should go to the horse which finished in front.’ Buick was deemed guilty of careless riding on Elusive Kate and received a three-day suspension but he took a calculated risk that Elusive Kate would not lose the race, given that he kept his whip in the `correct’ hand and, though Sky Lantern was struck in the face by Buick’s whip, there was no direct contact between Elusive Kate and Sky Lantern (Buick could probably have straightened Elusive Kate, but at some risk of Elusive Kate losing momentum).“

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