Calif. regulators penalize no one in 2021 Breeders' Cup gaffe

Calif. regulators penalize no one in 2021 Breeders' Cup gaffe
Photo: Bill Denver/Eclipse Sportswire

The California Horse Racing Board’s investigation into the erroneous scratch of Modern Games at last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf has been completed and it notes “inconsistent radio communications” played a pivotal role in the mixup.

In issuing its findings, the CHRB said no complaints would be filed as a result of the inquiry. However, supervising investigator Michael Barker, who interviewed "12 precipient witnesses to the incident," did issue a series of recommendations to help prevent similar occurrences in the future.

According to a summary of the report, no complaints were filed following the investigation due largely to the fact the CHRB "will not disincentivize regulatory veterinarians from recommending scratching horses when they have any iota of concern regarding their fitness to race."

The following three-page summary of the investigation’s finding was provided by the CHRB.

“The 2021 Breeders Cup World Championships was held November 5 and 6 in Del Mar,  California, and hosted by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

“Just prior to the start of the Juvenile Turf Race on Friday, November 5, an incident occurred at  the starting gate involving the horses Albahr (GB) and Modern Games (IRE). Albahr (GB) was  scratched from the race. Modern Games (IRE) also was scratched but was then permitted to  compete in the race for purse money only (no wagering on Modern Games (IRE)). Modern  Games (IRE) then ran in the race and finished first.

"However, because Modern Games (IRE)  ran for purse money only, the horse that finished right behind him, Tiz the Bomb, was declared  the official winner for pari-mutuel purposes. While most wagers on Modern Games (IRE) were  refunded or received consolations in accordance with CHRB rules, Pick 4, Pick 5, and Pick 6  wagers that included Modern Games (IRE) received the race favorite, Dakota Gold, in place of  Modern Games (IRE) unless a different horse was named as an alternate selection when the  wager was placed.

"After the conclusion of the race, the California Horse Racing Board  investigated the matter to determine what had occurred. While the CHRB does not typically  release an investigation report, especially when it does not result in a complaint, given the  widespread public interest, a summary of the investigation is provided.

"The Board’s investigation was conducted by Supervising Investigator Michael Barker.  Supervising Investigator Barker interviewed 12 percipient witnesses to the incident. Those  witnesses included personnel from the starting gate (veterinarians, starter, and assistant starters),  the stewards, placing judges, personnel in the pari-mutuel office and personnel in the totalizator  room. All witnesses were cooperative with the investigation. 

"At the conclusion of the investigation, Supervising Investigator Barker made the following  findings: 

"Albahr (GB), was in the number two stall. Albahr (GB) reared up over the starting gate, then  fell back on to his side, with his legs caught under the number three stall. During this time, the  horse in the number one stall, Modern Games (IRE), went through the front gate after the gate was opened by starting gate personnel and was uninjured.

"The veterinarians on scene initially  believed that Modern Games (IRE) had forced his way through the starting gate, and they made  the decision to scratch him. When informed by gate personnel that Modern Games (IRE) did  not force the gate doors open, the veterinarians inspected him and advised the stewards that  Modern Games (IRE) was fit to run.

"Concurrently, the stewards were advised of the scratch of both Albahr (GB) and Modern Games  (IRE) by the veterinarians. The stewards called the scratch into the tote room and both Modern  Games (IRE) and Albahr (GB) were removed from wagering. The stewards were then informed  that Modern Games (IRE) was not injured and was fit to race. The stewards called the tote room  to inform them what was occurring and requested that the tote room hold off on the scratch of  Modern Games (IRE), who has already been removed from the wagering pools.

"Modern Games  (IRE) was then placed back into the pari-mutuel pool. Subsequently, the stewards determined  that pursuant to CHRB Rule 1974, Modern Games (IRE) would be required to run  for purse money only. The tote room was then informed of the decision and Modern Games  (IRE) was again removed from the pari-mutuel pool. According to the witnesses, the time that  elapsed from the initial scratch of Modern Games (IRE) until the running of the race was roughly  12 minutes. 

"During the investigation it was clear that inconsistent radio communication effected the events  that transpired. Various witnesses indicated that they made calls over the radio that were not  heard or received by the intended recipients. At some points witnesses resorted to cell phone  communication to ensure their messages were relayed.

"The investigation noted that the regulatory veterinarians’ hurried recommendation to scratch Modern Games (IRE) could potentially have been avoided if a protocol requiring one person on the veterinary staff and one  person in the pari-mutuel department be in charge of scratches had been in place.  

"The CHRB considered the merit of applying CHRB Rule 1697 to the recommended  scratch by the regulatory veterinarians. However, Executive Director Scott Chaney declined to  file complaints for two reasons: (1) The difficulty of proving a violation given that a condition  precedent to a violation of this rule is that a horse actually broke through the gate; and (2) more  importantly, animal welfare is of paramount importance in the CHRB’s application of rules and  creation of protocols.

"The CHRB will not disincentivize regulatory veterinarians from  recommending scratching horses when they have any iota of concern regarding their fitness to  race. Just the opposite, the CHRB fully supports regulatory veterinarians erring on the side of  animal welfare when there is even a possibility that a horse may not be fit to race.  

"Despite the fact there will not be any complaints filed in this matter, the CHRB nevertheless  endeavors to prevent similar occurrences in the future. To that end, several recommendations  have been identified.  

"Recommendations:  

"(1)There is one designated Racing Veterinarian and he or she is the only person who can  recommend a scratch to the Stewards and the only person who can communicate a scratch  to the Stewards. 

"(2)The tote company and the pari-mutuel department must each designate one person who  can effectuate a scratch or purse money only designation by the Stewards. Both must  agree before either action can take place.  

"(3)A horse cannot be placed back into the mutuel pools after it has been scratched without  approval of all three Stewards. 

"(4)A Pari-mutuel Committee meeting should be held to consider changes to pari-mutuel  regulations. Issues that may be considered include but are not limited to: (a) advisability  of a purse-money-only designation and (b) requiring ADW companies to follow the  example of brick-and-mortar wagering facilities in California by providing bettors with  the opportunity to name alternate selections for scratched horses in Pick “n” wagers  involving four or more races. 

"(5)Associations, particularly on days when there are large crowds and competing bandwidth,  must provide an adequate communication system for racing officials.  

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