- John McCririck claims former BNP donor should be shunned
- Wentworth calls McCririck's intervention 'vindictive and spiteful'
McCririck used Channel 4's The Morning Line programme on Saturday to draw attention to Wentworth's past association with the far-right political group, to which the owner admits having made donations over a period of "six or seven" years. However, Wentworth insists that he has not donated for four years and is no longer a member of the BNP. Quoted in the Racing Post, he described McCririck's intervention as "unnecessary, vindictive and spiteful".
"He will be invited in his capacity as an owner," said James Brennan, head of marketing for York racecourse, which organises the dinner. "If you wanted to delve into the private lives of owners or racecourse executives or, heaven forfend, journalists, you might often find something to offend your personal moral code or compass." He pointed out that Wentworth must have passed the fit-and-proper-person test which the British Horseracing Authority applies to all owners.
Brennan stressed that the dinner is a racing occasion and he does not expect the content of the speech to stray beyond the sport's narrow confines into anything that the outside world might recognise as politics. "The owner in question quite often says: 'Great horse, great trainer, great race, great dinner,' and sits down," he said.
"At other times, they might say: 'I don't know where we're going to run him next year because he's not good enough for the Guineas and there's a gap in the pattern for horses like him.' It's that sort of speech. Sheikh Mohammed used the opportunity, many years ago, to express some strong views on racing that were acted upon and there have been other impressive and significant, racing-related addresses. We're proud of it as a racing occasion."
The dinner takes place each December and attendance is limited to 119 guests. Brennan said that past attendees include Prince Charles and Sir Alex Ferguson. McCririck expects that his boycott threat will mean he is not asked this time, but Brennan was coy on the subject.
"The job of compiling the list is not one that falls to me," he said. "So many people like to be invited that there is a bit of natural rotation every year." Asked if anyone else had expressed concern over Wentworth, he said that he had been kept busy through Saturday, dealing with the final day of the track's Ebor meeting.
McCririck maintained his stance on Sunday, describing the Gimcrack speech as "the No1 public-speaking slot in the sport" and saying that Wentworth's involvement "shames the whole of racing". Though happily admitting to holding right-wing views himself, he described the BNP as "a repugnant, vile organisation" and said his concern was for the sport's good name.
"It's how racing will look, as if we're prepared to tolerate this man's views and give him a platform at a prestigious occasion. It's just one little thing but we, in our little world, can show that we're not going to stand for this. The only control I've got is that, if I'm invited, I'm not going to go. I don't want to listen to a man like this."
Caspar Netscher is trained by Alan McCabe at Averham Park outside Newark, also the base for David Brown, whose Frederick Engels was a disappointing fifth of seven behind Dabirsim in the Prix Morny at Deauville on Sunday. David Redvers, an agent for the horse's owner, said the horse was feeling the effects of recent international travel, having raced in Ireland a fortnight ago.
"Johnny Murtagh said he coughed once at the stalls and six times after the race," Redvers reported. "If he had won the Phoenix [at The Curragh], we would never have brought him here, but we thought it was worth a chance. It turns out to have been a mistake. He looked magnificent but when you travel abroad, it's like having a run in itself. We'll give him a long break and bring him back for the Middle Park Stakes."
Mark Johnston had a better day, winning the Prix Kergorlay with Jukebox Jury, on whom Neil Callan rode an intelligent race from the front. Sir Henry Cecil's Timepiece was collared close home by Announce in the Prix Jean Romanet.