Horse Racing is a game of inches and unbridled emotion! One inch can trigger complete elation or utter deflation. Often times, it is extraordinarily difficult to maintain objectivity when so much is literally on the line.
The 2019 rendition of the famed Jockey Club Gold Cup did not disappoint! It was a thrilling renewal in which two incredibly talented horses gave their all through the stretch and were separated by mere inches at the wire! The outcome of this storied Grade 1, was in the balance right to the finish line. At the 1/4 pole Code of Honor began an eye catching move on the outside, moving to the long time leader, Vino Rosso. By the 3/16’s pole Code of Honor put his
head in front. However, Vino Rosso was not to be vanquished so easily and under furious left handed urging he drew even and by the 1/16 pole his head was in front. Inside the final 100 yards, the gallant Code of Honor’s head reached for the wire and was a bare nose shy by the line! The pan shot exemplified a courageous and determined battle by both horses and jockeys. Johnny Velazquez on the outside and Irad Ortiz along the inner. But the head on shot revealed
As a fully Accredited Steward, I am cognizant of the rules of racing that determine interference.
In simple terms, if an incident of interference affects the order of finish, a disqualification is justified.
In the instance of the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday, Vino Rosso, while running an exemplary race on the front end, drifted out into the path of Code of Honor. At the 3/16’s pole, Vino Rosso bumped Code of Honor. At this point, Code of Honor had gained a head advantage. A few strides later, another bump initiated by Vino Rosso drove Code of Honor further out into the track. Vino Rosso regained the lead by a head at this point. Inside the final 100 yards, there
was a third bump by Vino Rosso, just as Code of Honor extended his head to the wire again.
Racing is constantly barraged by calls for consistency in officiating, ie., the stewards stand.Consistency, of course is only possible when the rules of racing are clearly stated and thereby adjudicated in a transparent and objective manner. Additionally, it is an arduous undertaking to maintain objectivity when confronted with the emotions that are inherent in sport.
Moreover, racing is unique because of the fact that wagering dollars hang in the immediate balance of steward decisions. Thoroughbred racing in the United States is conducted on flat, oval surfaces run in a counter clockwise direction. Unlike Europe, every track across the US is configured in a similar fashion. Therefore, it is imperative that horses and jockeys maintain a straight course for safety and also affording each horse the best opportunity for a placing. In this way, rules are clear and should be upheld consistently.
In my view, the stewards made the correct decision. The bumps initiated by Vino Rosso, were enough to affect Code of Honor’s run at a critical moment of the race. Code of Honor had gained the lead, but following the two bumps he relinquished it. He dug in again, and was inching closer when the third bump occurred. It is unfortunate for fans and frustrating for connections to have such a prestigious race decided in the stewards stand.
Nonetheless, by altering several paths through the stretch, resulting in the contact, Vino Rosso did impact Code of Honors chance of victory and the rules were well served. Both horses ran exquisite races and both riders exhibited professional tenacity that should be applauded. Horse racing is a game of inches, and the result of contact between two thoroughbreds racing at 35 mph can often be measured in an inch.
Keith O’ Brien