Lawson waited long time for vindication

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

For reasons ranging from financial to sentimental, there will be a sizable group rooting for 84-year-old horse owner Mel Lawson this Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack.

Jiggs Coz, the strapping grey colt who is the consensus favourite to capture the 148th edition of the Queen's Plate, will be popular at the betting windows to be sure.

And as Lawson bids to complete his life in racing with his first win in the storied race, he will have in his corner the man who long ago brazenly denied him the treasured prize.

Of all the compelling chapters in the opening jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, few can top the notorious circumstances surrounding the 1984 running.

To this day, Lawson and the rest of the Let's Go Blue crew feel they were robbed.

The intervening 23 years have done little to soften the feelings, only adding to the agony of waiting so long to get a second chance.

First a replay of that 125th Plate, specifically the rough and tumble final eighth of a mile.

With jockey Larry Attard aboard Lawson's Let's Go Blue and Robin Platts on Key To The Moon to the outside, things started getting physical in the drive for the wire.

Attempting to squeeze his competitor towards the fence, Platts bounced his mount off Attard's as many as four times on his way to a hard-fought half-length win.

Attard immediately claimed foul, convinced that contact was so obvious that Woodbine stewards would have no choice but to reverse the decision and disqualify the winner.

But quick-thinking Platts, who didn't win four Plates without knowing all of the track's little tricks, had another bomb to drop.

He claimed foul as well, accusing Attard of fanning him wide on the final turn.

"I took a shot and it worked out in my favour," Platts said yesterday at the annual Queen's Plate barbecue.

"I won the race and claimed foul on Larry and (the stewards) couldn't understand what the heck was going on. Larry had bothered me on the turn and I thought it would be a good counter strike.

"I guess they agreed and they didn't know what to do."

Platts also acknowledged yesterday that he moved his mount to the inside and that replays showed he temporarily disrupted his opponent's stride.

Those admissions will come as no comfort to Lawson and Attard, who now works as an assistant for his brother and Jiggs Coz's trainer, Sid.

The jockey has been retired for 10 years now but still remembers the '84 Plate as though it was run yesterday.

The octogenerian owner, still sharp as a whip, can also recite the details and swears an injustice was done.

"My opinion, I still say today is that his number should have went down," Attard said in racetrack-speak for a disqualification.

"Everybody knows what happened. If it wasn't in the Queen's Plate, the decision would have been made quickly."

Lawson, a Grey Cup-winning quarterback for the 1943 Hamilton Wildcats, couldn't believe the decision at the time and still isn't accepting it almost a quarter century later.

"There's no doubt about it," Lawson said. "I don't mean to get into personalities, but the stewards at the time were in their first week, I think. They wouldn't talk to us."

In their ruling, race officials admitted some banging took place, but claimed they couldn't determine whether the incident occurred before or after the wire.

Jim Lawson, fresh out of law school, thought such a verdict was laughable and was keen to take the case to court to prove otherwise on his father's behalf.

"I was very anxious to take up the challenge," the younger Lawson said yesterday before his father's horse was paraded in the Woodbine walking ring.

"But my dad said to me: 'Listen, I've been in sports my whole life and I've learned to live by the call and that's the way it's going to be.'

"That was a great life lesson for me. In the long run, I respected him for it."

Both jockeys are retired now and both members of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Both also will acknowledge one of racing's unwritten rules: The bigger the stakes the harder it is to get disqualified.

Platts has no apologies or regrets, nor should he.

He does, however, have well wishes for the owner he once denied.

"It was a shame for Mr. Lawson and all his crew," Platts said. "I wish him all the best this year, naturally.

"It was one of those things, I was riding hard and doing everything I could to win.

"It was a questionable race and a questionable decision. I guess it always will be until there is no more Queen's Plate."


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