How our own living legend Anthony Butt sees it: Do stewards want us to drive like robots?
Top harness driver Anthony Butt, last month named a Caduceus Club of Victoria Living Legend, shares his perspective on the Maurice McKendry case and how ultra strict policing by stewards is affecting drivers’ decisions.
Stewards seem to want us to drive like pre-programmed robots and not take any risks, says leading reinsman Anthony Butt.
Butt, who has reached champion status in the cart on both sides of the Tasman, says the kind of charge laid against Maurice McKendry for his losing drive on Simply Sam is a common occurence in Australia.
“It’s all about perception for the punters. Drivers are under so much scrutiny with social media and race replays and sometimes you have to drive badly to please the stewards.”
Butt has watched replays of the Alexandra Park race on June 10 and says he can absolutely understand why McKendry chose to shift down the track instead of going very wide.
“You can see Maurice lost the back of the horse in front of him, obviously he wasn’t travelling as well as he’d have liked. And it’s especially tricky on that last bend at Alexandra Park.
“I’ve been in that situation hundreds of times where you save ground on the turn and hope for a run. A lot of the time it’s the difference between winning and losing.”
But the way trigger-happy stewards operate nowadays Butt says it sometimes does cross his mind on whether to take the risk of being suspended and you have to play the percentages.
“But it’s wrong when you think you should be going in, and you don’t, because you know if you don’t get a run you’re in trouble. There might be an 80% chance it comes off and you win the race but there’s a 20% chance it doesn’t and the stewards will sideline you.
“They don’t want you to take risks, they want you to make sure you get a clear run even if it means you run only fourth.
“But I’m always prepared to take a risk and win rather than play it safe and know you can’t win.”
The most celebrated risk Butt took was when he elected to go for an inside run on Mr Feelgood in the 2009 Interdominion Final on the Gold Coast worth A$1.2 million.
“I went from three wide to the passing lane for a run but if he’d come to the outside he wouldn’t have won.
“That’s what we do. We make split-second decisions and nine times out of ten we get it right. But it’s a fine line between being a genius and a mug. What can be a genius move at the time can be the wrong call 100 metres later because other things happen.
“You don’t have time to think, it’s just bang, you do it. That’s where experience comes into it and you do drive on instinct.”
If you think stewards were harsh in charging McKendry, consider the recent case where Butt was outed for four weeks after his horse was badly held up, was beaten a nose, and would have won in another stride.
“I went into the trail 200 metres after the start. I was in the one-one but two were coming and I would have ended up four back. I ended up never getting a run and they said I should have stayed off the fence. We’re all geniuses after the race.”
Butt says with betting so big in Australia, the more favoured the horse, the closer they are watched by the stewards.
“You might get away with it on a longer shot but not a favourite.
“A lot of times going to the inside is your only chance of winning. If you go four and five wide you get a clear run but can’t win. Do the stewards want us to drive them like robots and play safe or win?”
Butt says it would be a travesty if the threat of being penalised made drivers too scared to take risky decisions.
“You shouldn’t have in the back of your mind that you might be in trouble taking an inside run. It’s tough when the stewards take that option away from you. Is that right or wrong? To my mind it’s wrong.
“In every race drivers make decisions and they’re not all right. How do you know what will happen next in a race?
“Maurice would have made correct calls a thousand times. People forget that.”
More news in Harness
Nemo will find it tough on Friday and Tommy’s out, waiting for the guns to go home
Northern horsemen rally behind McKendry and seek review of controversial rule
Next To Me drawn to feature for our Monika at Cambridge on Thursday night
Up-and-comer Simply Sam shows he has other strings to his bow with brilliant win
Our runners this week: How our trainers rate them
Thursday night at Cambridge
Race 2: Next To Me
“He’s starting to put it together and looks a serious chance. He’s gone some nice races. He was entitled to run last there one night (when badly checked) and finished fourth so he’s tough enough. He should get every chance from the draw.”
Race 2: Whiz On Bye
“I don’t think there’s much between him and Next To Me. He’s pacing much better now and he was quite good in the last of his three workouts. I hope they can both run in the money.”
Race 3: Riverboy Ben
“The second row draw is awkward for him over only 1700 metres - obviously he’ll get back. I think he’s a horse who will need a trip and he’s not likely to get one from there. He’ll need to be lucky.”
Race 7: Riverman Sam
“I think he’s the best horse in the race and I don’t see why he can’t do it again. The 2200 metres won’t worry him. He’s no slug, he’s got speed. I got him home in 27.2 when he won over 2700 metres.”
Mark Dux’s comments
Friday at Albion Park
Race 6: Captain Nemo
6.07pm NZ time
“It’s a pretty strong field - every bit as good as last week, maybe stronger - and while he’s starting to get back to where he was, he’s not quite there yet. We’ll come out steady on, get into the running line, and play it by ear.”
Saturday night at Albion Park
Race 1: Tommy Lincoln
7.15pm NZ time
“He’s first emergency so I’ll give him a week off to freshen up and then start again. I don’t know whether he just had an off night last week or if the 26.6 first quarter played into it. That other horse was in our face the rest of the way too.”