Friday, July 27, 2018

CHRB Needs to DQ the Stewards

Still fuming that the winner of Sunday's Wicker Stakes at Del Mar drifted out about 7-8 paths into my onrushing horse in the stretch and cost him -- and me, the horseplayer -- the win and several dollars, I wanted to delve a bit into the disqualification issue at California's thoroughbred race tracks, namely to gain a better understanding of the process both in- and after-race.

Perhaps my research isn't the most scientific or journalistic, but for a general lack of time to conduct exhaustive research and interviews, I focused on a small sample of races since late-2017 where I recalled key disqualifications or non-DQs.

The findings are eye-opening and support my argument that the California Horse Racing Board needs to more-closely examine the highly inconsistent decisions of its referees and how they impact all parties, including paying customers, and a sport that's already rife with integrity questions. 

Most of us who support the sport recognize the risk that supposedly neutral observers -- state-licensed "race stewards" --  could make rulings we disagree with, largely in races involving claims of foul by jockeys, or in cases of "inquiry," where the stewards on their own will review a race where there's potential fouling and one horse compromised another's chances for placement. 

I'd never really questioned the integrity of the stewards or the decision-making process of these arbiters (the sport's rooted in gambling, so...), giving the benefit of the doubt that it's a difficult job that requires much training, licensing and rules interpretation and can cost the customer a lot of money.

Yet, the deeper I dig, the more I question the motives of the stewards and, for that matter, whether they're qualified to make racing DQ decisions, or better equipped to hand out soft-serve ice cream at your local DQ -- Dairy Queen.   

The ensuing samples show curious cases of clear jockey favoritism, horses not being summarily DQ'd for drifting out several paths into other horses' lanes, and of a rider being suspended for 3 days for an incident that never came up as an objection or stewards' inquiry after the race.

Feel free to comment, but overall there's a substantial case to be made about the competency of California's thoroughbred racing stewards.  

Sunday, July 22 -- Del Mar, Wicker Stakes

The Case: Dangerous riding, drifting and interference by the winner. 

Evidence: It's clear from the video, particularly the head-on view that the three stewards reviewed ("inquiry") for a good 6-7 minutes, that the horse that crossed the finish line first impeded another. 

Double Touch, #13, takes the lead in the stretch but drifts halfway out into the middle of the track, herds 3-4 other horses toward the grandstand, and bumps and potentially intimidates Bombard, #14 before the wire. Double Touch wins the photo finish, but a stewards' inquiry is declared. Surprisingly, Bombard's jockey and/or trainer didn't lodge an objection against Double Touch jockey Gary Stevens for failing to maintain his line and creating interference in the stretch.

Stewards Decision: No blood, no foul.

Outcomes: Bettors who had Double Touch cashed big on a 25-to-1 bomber, while mine and several others' win wagers on 8-to-1 Bombard were kaput. Minutes from this week's stewards meeting (page 7) make zero reference to a fine or reprimand vs. Stevens for riding dangerously, and had the audacity to say that Bombard drifted out too, which I'd argue was jockey Flavian Prat recognizing that Stevens' was rolling at him at almost 40 MPH. Sort of like being in Lane 5 of a sprint but moving to the right a little when you see Usain Bolt invading your space from all the way over in Lane 1. Common sense says to move the hell out of the way to avoid getting steamrolled.

NJ Horseplayer take: Based on the ire of several people on Twitter who either bet or just watched the race, Double Touch should have been disqualified and placed second. I complete agree. I should have been cashing winning wagers, as well as higher up the leaderboard of the Del Mar Online Contest instead of being in 180th-place out of 4,162 contestants as of this writing. 

Saturday, July 21 -- Del Mar Race 9

The Case: Jockey gets a seemingly egregious suspension from riding for, in essence, failing to ride his horse in a straight line.

Interesting, since...isn't that what Stevens did in the Wicker a day later?

Evidence: Below, watch #9, Truck Salesman, a 2-year-old making his first-ever start. Jockey Kyle Frye gets a clean lead and maintains TS's line until the stretch, where after a left-hand tap of the whip the colt tires a bit and comes into the path of fourth-place finisher Synthesis. The top three finishers were unaffected. 

Steward's Decision: Not Applicable, since there was no claim of foul by another rider vs. Frye or an inquiry into the stretch run that would merit an action such as a DQ.

Outcome: A look at the official race chart from Equibase makes zero mention of any sort of shenanigans in the stretch by Truck Salesman. Yet, in "Ruling #002" by the stewards from July 22, Frye was suspended 3 racing days for "failure to maintain a straight course in the stretch and causing interference. This constitutes a violation of California Horse Racing Board Rule #1699 (Riding Rules-Careless Riding)."

NJHorseplayer Take: Perhaps the jockey had prior warnings for similar race riding that substantiate severe 3-day penalty, but from afar the infraction seems minuscule vs. Stevens' Wicker. The cynic in me wonders whether the steward here wanted to teach the 26-year-old Frey a lesson, whereas they took no action on a Hall of Fame jockey riding for a trainer on the cusp of his first stakes win.

Sunday, May 6 -- Santa Anita Park Race 8

The Case: Winning horse ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith fails to maintain its lane, carries 2-3 of his opponents into the middle of the track during the stretch, then drifts back in before crossing the wire first.

The Background: I couldn't find a direct link of the video to post here, but it's available on Cal and author John Cherwa gives a great account of the incident in the May 10 Los Angeles Times, including some excellent feedback from racing experts and stewards' rulings.

Steward's Decision: Our old friend -- Rule #1699 -- rears its head. The stewards made no change to the race-order finish, leaving prohibitive favorite Achira as the winner, while Geovanni Franco (who lodged a claim of foul vs. Smith...rightfully so) and runner-up Helen Hillary and that horse's connections and backers drew the short straw. But, hey, according to the stewards subsequent meeting minutes (pg. 7-8), Smith had to go back and attend a "film review" on May 10.

Outcome: Bettors who backed Helen Hillary may be angry to learn that Smith wasn't disqualified for his actions aboard Achira on May 6, but on May 10 was handed a four-day suspension (May 17-20) for, ahem, "failure to maintain a straight course and causing interference in the stretch."

NJHorseplayer Take: The ruling sounds harsh on the surface, but in hindsight is feckless, considering that Smith's suspension in California happened to be for a period when the steward knew full well that he'd be riding Justify in the Preakness Stakes in Maryland. I'm not saying that Smith should have been locked up or anything, but the CHRB is starting to look more clownish by the minute, and horseplayers who lost hard-earned money betting the victims of the race interference get zero solace in learning a few days later about a suspension, when on May 6 the stewards made a horrendous decision and bent the rules or had zero understanding of how to apply them. 

Saturday, March 10 -- Santa Anita Park, San Felipe Stakes 

I won't belabor this or the next example, but watch the replay, and read Cherwa's take in the LA Times. Smith comes out on the short end this time when DQ'd aboard apparent winner #4 McKinzie for "aggressive bumping" in the stretch, after #1 Bolt d'Oro (awarded the win by virtue of disqualification) clearly slams into him turning into the homestretch. I didn't bet this race, but watching it live and after several replay views would have made no change. Clearly the steward disagreed, first changing the order of finish, then suspending Smith three days for the incident. Read the quote from trainer Bob Baffert in the Cherwa story, pretty interesting.

Saturday, December 9, 2017 -- Los Alamitos Futurity

Another involving McKinzie. This time a suspect disqualification of a winner with obvious momentum and who looked sharper than the others, and the stewards' curious explanation. I was unable to find any follow-up investigation by the CHRB, but figure there wasn't one, since it's Los Alamitos and the officials probably wanted to move their meeting around then along to get out quicker and do their Christmas shopping.

Again, feel free to draw your own conclusions. However, as horseplayers, you'll agree that it's hard enough when you put in your work and find winners, then have it all blown up by inconsistent stewards incapable of fairly applying the rules and avoiding controversy. From the videos and other citations above, CHRB stewards are all over the map in their race-day and follow-up determinations. The state's governing body needs do something about it, namely to restore faith that horseplayers -- the core customer -- will get consistent and fair treatment on DQ rulings.

No comments:

Post a Comment