You Figure It Out

July 17, 2016

I have been writing about the decisions of stewards for a few years now with some regularity. It isn’t by choice. There are things I’d much prefer writing about in The Sport of Kings than these decisions. Unfortunately, a constant stream of bad and inconsistent calls  irks not only players, owners, and trainers, but me too. Jockeys as well I imagine, although they are privy to meetings and discussions with the stewards on a somewhat regular basis that we aren’t. Perhaps they have a better grasp of the logic. Perhaps not. The jockeys I’ve discussed this with, some of them Hall of Famers don’t, and pretty much agree there is an issue.

Believe it or not, there was a time not long ago that when you saw the head on replay after an inquiry or claim of foul, you pretty much knew what the result was going to be. You were seldom wrong, and the calls were pretty consistent. If you committed a foul, and it was visible on the replay or head on, you came down. It was plain and simple. An argument started to come up at tracks across the country, mostly by bettors and owners who raised an interesting issue that wasn’t really considered much back then. The argument was “it didn’t affect the outcome of the race or order of finish”. Valid point, especially if you had a 5 length going away winner that was disqualified for something relatively minor, although in an inherently dangerous sport, even a minor infraction can be serious.

In an effort to appease this argument and make things fair, the powers that be did exactly the opposite. They introduced new rules at racetracks across the country that gave the stewards some leeway and discretion to decide if a foul cost another runner a better placing or chance at one. Obviously this is very subjective. Often experts can’t agree on this as evidenced by the voluminous arguments over disqualifications and non-disqualifications on social media. It is further emphasized by how few steward decisions are unanimous. I haven’t checked statistics on this but most of the ones I’ve seen are not unanimous, and most if not all of the recent “debates” have not been unanimous.

We see this happen on the biggest stages in our game. I’m a Chatterbox looked like a complete standout on paper in The Grade 1 Delaware Handicap, and was bet like it and ran like it. She dominated the outclassed field and ran to expectations. It was no surprise, she was flat out too fast and classy for her competition. The mile and a quarter was a non-issue as she handled it as a three-year old in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga last year. However, there was one slight problem with her victory. It probably didn’t affect the finish as she won in strong fashion, and just as likely didn’t influence any placings. We will never really know that though will we?

I'm A Chatterbox makes a left out of the gate
I’m A Chatterbox makes a left out of the gate

How can anyone say for sure what effect a bump has on a horse? They can become intimated or injured. They can get the breath knocked out of them. Who knows? With that, as a long time student of the game and professional player, I don’t believe what happened had any bearing on the outcome as far as the winner goes, but the fact remains she mugged the horses inside of her not once but twice. I’m a Chatterbox broke from the 4 post with three horses inside of her. Immediately out of the gate she made a left turn under Florent Geroux and bumped Milaya in the 3 hole pretty hard starting a chain reaction. All the inside horses were affected. To Florent’s credit, he did all he could to remedy the situation and straighten his filly out. She went in again though maybe two or three strides out of the gate causing the exact same thing as the first time. Florent again reacted immediately and got his filly together, got her to the outside, and rode a perfect race on a much the best horse. There was nothing he could have done prior to prevent this, and I’m a Chatterbox has no known history I’m aware of as a bad gate actor.

Interestingly, she was disqualified in a Grade 1 Race, The Coaching Club American Oaks last year. That had nothing to do with the gate though. It was a bump with the Todd Pletcher trained Curalina right at the wire. Different track and situation although a touch of irony exists as I’m a Chatterbox was disqualified in Saratoga, where Todd Pletcher is immensely popular, but not in Delaware where her trainer Larry Jones is immensely popular. Does that factor into the steward’s discussions and decisions? I certainly hope not and don’t think so, but a lot of these decisions are hard to figure out.

After The Delaware Handicap, Riccardo Santana Jr. claimed foul against the winner. He rode the 1, Paid Up Subscriber who finished second. The two horses between him and the winner, ridden by C Cedeno and Brian Pedroza, didn’t claim foul. They were both involved in the mugging, and the 3 Milaya was hit first in the chain reaction. How Riccardo knew which horse to claim on is a good question. Regardless, no claim by the middle riders, and no inquiry until after the foul claim, and it was never even posted on the board. The head on view was shown a few times. It clearly showed a Bayern like mugging took place right out of the gate.

IMG_4328We can argue all day, and perhaps never agree on the impact it had on the race and placings. Logic dictates it didn’t impact who won but the rest is very subjective. We can agree a foul occurred, and the only fair solution is to have a set of rules that if you break you come down, and if you don’t you stay up. It’s not rocket science, and we can likely agree there are a lot of subjective calls we can’t agree on. Bayern and I’m a Chatterbox being two of them. Throw in I’m a Chatterbox in Saratoga. How about the disqualification of She’s a Tiger in The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies a few years back? Was that worse than Bayern?

Worst of all, how about the poor guy who had the only Rainbow 6 ticket at Gulfstream Park a few years back, only to have Collinito disqualified for a minor bump with Strategic Mission that did not affect the outcome or winner anyway. It was the last race on Fountain of Youth day and this bettor had over a million dollars snatched away by a discretionary subjective call, that for the record THEY GOT WRONG.

While on the record, Bayern should have been disqualified, She’s a Tiger, not so much. I’m a Chatterbox should have stood up in The Coaching Club American Oaks, but not today. I hope whoever it was that had Collinito is already a millionaire, as they should be. Now you may or may not agree, but I have been at this a long time and that is how I see it. If many of you don’t agree, and I mean across the board, it only serves to strengthen the argument for “the old rules” when a foul was a foul and when you watched the head on you knew if you were in trouble or not. The added subjectivity and discretion has created a negative perception of what goes on and why. I saw a foul so bad last year at a major track, I couldn’t believe the inquiry sign didn’t go up immediately. Neither could anyone else around. The rider claimed foul, but after 30-45 seconds it was announced the result stands. A gambling man by nature, I’d bet the stewards left early to beat the traffic.

Set the rules, clearly define the rules, and enforce them equally and fairly. This didn’t affect the race or a placing does not work, and we can’t agree. We all know a foul though. Simplicity is the essence of intelligence. All we’re looking for is consistency. Fair enough?

HIGH FIVE:

A little shameless self promotion is unavoidable today. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point this out. When Cupid won The Indiana Derby earlier this evening he became the sixth stakes winner, with one (Marking) second by a neck, in a Grade 1 no less, to win back after showing speed and fading on Belmont Stakes Day. He joined Fish Trappe Road, Off the Tracks, Wake Up in Malibu, Mrazek, and a few others. It”s exactly what I wrote in the column To B or Not To B would happen. If you missed it you can read it here:

https://053.732.myftpupload.com/to-b-or-not-to-b/

If you are a Tracking Trips subscriber you also knew it. If you listen to the Past the Wire radio segment on It’s Post Time on wdbfradio.com you also knew it. It’s one of the strongest bias examples you will ever see. You can lead a horse to water……..

LOW FIVE:

IMG_4105This one goes to Bill Finlay and Thoroughbred Daily News for their article on Jerry Crawford becoming a “pick 6 king”. Apparently they don’t know what a Pick 6 King resume looks like. This is what one looks like, and it didn’t start with a few million or any algorithms, just a racing form and a few hundred between me and poverty;

Saratoga $540k

Gulfstream 126k

Saratoga 146k

Gulfstream 110k

Keeneland 36k

Belmont 69k

Gulfstream 79k, times two!!!

Del Mar 9k

Belmont 17k

Belmont 36k

Gulfstream 7k

Keeneland 16k

Santa Anita 10k

Belmont 56k

Belmont 14k times two

Santa Anita 7k

DelMar 8k

Gulfstream 24k

Are you kidding me? I’ve been a guest on Bill and Dave Johnson’s radio show two times, and gave out a winner both of them, they should know who I am.

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