Fonner Park found itself in uncharted territory Tuesday as the eyes of the racing world focused on the Grand Island, Neb., racetrack for a mandatory payout of its jackpot Pick 5, which measured $497,810 entering the day.
Roughly $3.6 million in additional wagering dollars ballooned the Pick 5 pool to $4,161,515, and a disqualification of the Race 4 winner made for a controversial beginning to the sequence. Speaking Wednesday morning on Steve Byk’s “At the Races” radio show, Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak supported the stewards’ decision but said he understood why many people were angry with the disqualification ruling. “Nothing I can say or do is going to return the money to the gamblers who lost their wager,” Kotulak told Byk. “The DQ was harsh and people should be angry.”
There was a controversial DQ in the 4th race @fonnerracing today that I intend on addressing after I receive the Steward's report after the races today. I will however not address any piggish tweets. I will respond to the harsh call later tonight. I appreciate your patience.— Chris Kotulak (@chriskotulak) April 8, 2020
The field hit the second turn with Where’s Rufus leading the way along the rail and Taylor’s Prince closely behind. Nearing the top of the stretch, Fackler tried to get Taylor’s Prince up the rail in a tight squeeze. Wood angled Where’s Rufus towards the rail in an attempt to close the gap. Taylor’s Prince checked, losing ground. Where’s Rufus hit the wire first, but Fackler lodged an objection. The stewards ultimately agreed with him, disqualifying Where’s Rufus and placing him second with Taylor’s Prince elevated to the win.
The stewards' call knocked many bettors out of the Pick 5 early, causing a stir on social media. Kotulak said the decision was based solely on Nebraska's rules. Kotulak quoted Nebraska State Racing Commission Rule 17.002.01, which reads: “When clear, a horse may be taken to any part of the course, but no horse shall cross or weave in front of other horses in such a way as to impede them or constitute or cause interference or intimidation.” Fonner Park stewards Bob Pollack, Dennis Kochevar and Doug Schoepf told Kotulak their decision was unanimous. Their written explanation of the events were: “No. 7 (Where’s Rufus) was off the rail. No. 2 (Taylor’s Prince) was making a move inside of No. 7. No. 2 got up on the inside. No. 7 came across and caused interference. No. 2 had to take up sharply.” The stewards told Kotulak they didn’t have any issues making the decision based on the video -- head-on as well as pan shot -- they saw. The stewards also made no mention in the report whether Wood had complained that he was run into from the flank or behind by Taylor’s Prince and Fackler. “Races are not run in slow motion," Kotulak told Byk. "They are run in real time, and real-time decisions have to be made. Part of their decision is that they saw what they saw in real time, and I think that factored into their decision.” He also quoted the Equibase chart footnotes of the race, indicating that Wood “was forced to check” as Where’s Rufus “came in.” Byk offered his opinion on the disqualification, saying in these instances he feels there's a 70-30% chance of the result standing. “I didn’t think it was a slam dunk,” Kotulak said, adding it was “60-40 for me. It was harsh. It was controversial. It’s all of that.” Kotulak said that following the disqualification, there were still 640,000 live tickets in the Pick 5. Roughly 200 tickets were ultimately cashed, with the 50-cent payout equalling $8,444.20. “Was it an unfortunate aspect in the intense limelight that Fonner Park is in right now? Of course,” Kotulak said. “Did I want this to occur? Of course not. Was this the crime of the century? I say of course not also.” “Although, we are under the microscope right now with nothing else to look at. The keyboard cowboys did come out."