When Ana O’Brien was nearly paralysed at Killarney, and the racing world awaited news with a sickening sense of foreboding, it was all but lost in the story that her mount, Druids Cross, had been put down.
So it should have been, even if the occurrence of a horse being killed by human hands after racing at the behest of other humans will never rest too easily. Many animal rights enthusiasts, though, seem to view life in a manner that betrays ignorance of realities of the wild.
This came to mind when video footage captured Davy Russell punching, or jabbing if you will, the Roger McGrath-trained Kings Dolly at Tramore on Friday. The mare approached the ‘show’ hurdle — an obstacle jockeys show their horses before a race – a little exuberantly, coming to a rather abrupt halt.
For a reason best known to the rider, who opted not to comment when contacted on Saturday night, Russell lost his cool. The optics were not good and — while punching a horse is not the same as punching a human, just like punching a human is not the same as punching a mouse — plenty reacted caustically on Twitter.
Others, notably some in racing, saw it differently. “Far too much made of it, nobody was killed,” growled one leading figure.
The Turf Club seemingly has no precedent. In 2008, rider Jeremy Rose struck his mount in the head with a whip and got six months at Delaware in the US. Russell will get nothing like this but no jockey should be allowed to punch a horse in the head, clearly not in self-defence. What the Turf Club does will set a precedent.
In July, Shane Foley got a seven-day ban after hitting his mount twice behind the saddle prior to entering the stalls. This was dropped on appeal to five, the same ban Sean Levey got at Kempton in 2014 after punching a steed which had unseated him. Anything less for Russell is a dubious message.
Russell is one of Irish racing’s biggest names. What he did was not so much a corrective measure but a moment of petulance on a mare which did not seem especially recalcitrant, for which he should be punished and remorseful. If he is not, he should explain why.
And as Clonmel showed last September, when he lost the plot in front of the stewards, Russell has a kink or two.