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If there wasn't a feud, there is now ...

Byline: James Willoughby Chief correspondent

THE depth of feeling conveyed by Aidan O'Brien's words should make everyone in the sport sit up and take notice. If there wasn't a feud between racing's two superpowers before, there certainly is now.

Aside from the implications of this war of words, it must be said that the stewards' ruling that Seamus Heffernan acted improperly on Ivan Denisovich is a strong candidate for the most curious of recent times.

Heffernan was perfectly entitled to angle away from the inside, because he would have got stuck in traffic and lost his place if not reacting. He might have come over a little further than strictly necessary, but it requires a degree of imagination to be sure of his reasons for doing so.

And the fact remains that Heffernan kept his line on the bend, so whether Ivan Denisovich is trained at Ballydoyle or Bermuda is irrelevant.

Librettist's rider Frankie Dettori was more to blame for his horse being trapped wide. He did nothing to try to improve his position on the outside from before halfway. Even without Ivan Denisovich, he would have left his horse in a tricky spot.

His reaction, however, was arguably worse than his riding. Given that neither Librettist nor any other Godolphin runner could benefit significantly from Ivan Denisovich being disqualified, making his feelings so public and so pointed is no different from a footballer attempting to get an opponent a red card.

And it is no good absolving himself from blame on the basis that the stewards' ruling was independent of his protestations' it may well have been, but he certainly increased the chance that action would be taken.

It must be said, however, that O'Brien has given the Italian the same back and more. Insinuating that Dettori's behaviour is born of immaturity may or may not be justified. The point is that the usually taciturn Ballydoyle trainer has chosen to personalise the incident where he might instead have played it down.

So, what are we to make of the potential fallout? First, it would be no surprise if Sheikh Mohammed chose to distance himself from his jockey's position, even if racing manager Simon Crisford initially backed Dettori.

After all, the sheikh has always stood for sportsmanship in victory or defeat. Anyway, it would be hugely hypocritical to cry foul in this case given Give The Slip's part in Fantastic Light's 2001 Irish Champion Stakes verdict over Galileo. That, if you remember, was rightly celebrated by those at Godolphin as an example of supreme strategy.

As Dettori himself recalled in his autobiography Frankie: "It helped that Richard Hills, who rode a blinder on our pacemaker Give The Slip, agreed to stay a little off the rail so that I had the choice of passing him either on the inside or outside."

But the tension that already exists between Sheikh Mohammed and Coolmore in the sales ring, exacerbated to a degree by Dettori's decision to partner the O'Brien-trained Scorpion in last year's St Leger, now takes a further ratchet up.

Perhaps those associated with Godolphin will simply rise above it and continue to field pacemakers and multiple challengers for big races when and where they are deemed suitable. Or perhaps there will be an escalation of the use of these strategies.

At least we now know this much is true: top-level Flat racing, that callous pursuit of wealth and power so detached from the intense rivalry generated in other sports, is now in danger of veering towards a bitter struggle.

Given the stakes involved for the sport, nobody is sure whether to be intrigued by the situation, or downright concerned.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 25, 2006
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