Photo: Coady Photography
We've all been on both sides of an inquiry or objection. Sometimes it's our horse that caused the trouble and other times our horse was on the receiving end. In either case we stare at the replay as it rewinds and plays over and over again. What might only take a few minutes seems like hours.
Everyone has an opinion on the matter and most of the time a case can be made for or against the alleged foul and therein lies the problem. The rules for what justifies a disqualification are often very subjective. Sure there are times when a horse drifts out five paths or a jockey strikes another horse with his whip but most of the time it's not clear cut.
This puts immense pressure on the three stewards, who have a thankless job. No matter the decision many people will be upset because their decision can alter the distribution of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to horseplayers, owners and trainers.
A few recent examples illustrate this perfectly.
Over $1.3M was bet on the Oaklawn Handicap alone. Several hundred thousand dollars were bet on multi-race bets that included the race. $600,000 of purse money was distributed to the top six finishers.
Will Take Charge, the 2/5 favorite crossed the line first but not before drifting in badly during the final furlong. After watching the replay a few times I thought there was a chance he would be disqualified because he appeared to impede several horses when he drifted in, but it wasn't a slam dunk.
This was one of those situations where it could go either way and in the end the stewards decided to leave the order of finish alone. As mentioned above this decision impacted the distribution of over $2M between the money bet and the purse of the race.
Personally I was happy with the decision as I selected Will Take Charge in the Derby Wars $50K game but thousands of other horseplayers that selected or bet on the runner-up were not happy.
Gulfstream Park Rainbow 6 DQ
A similar financial impact occurred a few weeks ago at Gulfstream. The final race of the day had three horses that would trigger a $1.6M payout in the Rainbow 6. When one of them went gate to wire there was one extremely happy horseplayer waiting for the official sign to be posted.
Unfortunately as most you know the stewards decided to disqualify the winner for interfering with the runner-up in the stretch. Immediately conspiracy theorists voiced their opinion that the track wanted the Rainbow 6 jackpot to continue to grow so they told the stewards to disqualify the horse.
This rumor was disproved in the days to follow but the fact is the decision to disqualify the horse was a tough call. I'm glad I wasn't responsible for making the decision because a case could be made either way. Had this been a regular day without a seven figure score on the line it would've been talked about briefly but forgotten by the next day.
These two incidents beg the question of what should constitute a disqualification? In the U.S. any horse can be disqualified for interference while in some foreign countries a horse can only be disqualified if it cost the other horse the win.
Which is the better way to go? This again is tough because millions of dollars are bet everyday on vertical wagers (exacta, trifecta, superfecta and Super High 5). Is it fair to leave a horse up if it costs another horse third or fourth place? On the flip side is it fair to disqualify a ten length winner for bumping a horse leaving the gate or during the race?
Personally I believe in leaving the results stand unless there is a blatant and intentional foul. Bumping occurs in every race and most disqualification occur for fouls in the stretch but shouldn't the whole race be treated equally? My vote would be to follow the rule for some foreign racing jurisdictions and only disqualify a winner if the horse it interfered with was cost the win.
Regardless of the decision a thorough explanation should be provided for any inquiry or objection. Some tracks have started doing this by letting the track announcer explain the decision while the replay is being played on the simulcast feed. We need all tracks to do this.
Additionally it would do a world of good to produce a detail written report for each of these incidences and to post them on the tracks website. Taking it a step further and following the lead of the Hong Kong stewards why not publish a daily report to include every race. In Hong Kong jockeys are fined and suspended even when no claim of foul is lodged. Specifically jockeys can be punished for not riding a horse with the intent of winning. We have all seen jockeys here give up late and get nosed out of third or fourth costing us money and the owner and trainer of the horse money.
Respect the Stewards
As I said I don't envy the job of the stewards because they can't please everyone. I also know that in the long run things will even out and the disqualifications or lack thereof will work in your favor as often as they work against you. With the additional transparency that has come out of the Rainbow 6 disqualification and with a little more transparency we can stop wondering why a decision was made. While it might not take the hurt out of losing a bet it will help you move onto the next race with the confidence that the decision made was the best judgement of the stewards without any outside influences.