For anyone who’s spent more than a few days, never mind years, trying to cash a winning bet, disqualifications suck. Look, they just do and here’s the biggest reasons why – inconsistency.
There are two kinds of inconsistency in the world of disqualification rulings. The first occurs at the same track, at least twice on the same day. A horse early in the card receives a disqualification or not, then later in the card, a seemingly similar infraction or lack there of gets the opposite treatment.
This happened early in the Saratoga meet on July 26 in races 5 and 10. (The head-on replays for both races can be viewed at NYRA.com. If you watch both races and don’t know the results of the stewards, guess which horse stayed up and which horse was taken down before reading on. Good luck!)
The second is more common – a horseplayer comparing two DQ decisions from two different tracks regardless of when each occurred. Recent Mike Smith rides during two big stakes races come to mind. The first would be the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga in which Abel Tasman makes contact with Elate – enough so Smith’s boot drives into Elate. No DQ.
A month later in the Cotillion Stakes, Monomoy Girl strode down the Parx lane in the lead like a New Year’s Eve reveler. Smith aboard runner up, Midnight Bisou claimed foul for the ride in front of him. Race riding, herding and no contact, were some phases tossed in the Twittersphere as the stewards took their time making their decision. Ultimately they decided Midnight Bisou was denied a straight running path. Monomoy Girl was DQ’d.
In the first example, a strong case can be made for inconsistency, as the race 5 infraction looks much worse than the race 10. Be that as it may, the race 5 winner stayed up and the race 10 winner came down. And thus, a season of many steward complaints followed at the Spa.
Any good official regardless of the sport, will tell you impartiality is crucial when making decisions. Emotions, score, or even what happened during the previous play, day, or call cannot and should not impact the next decision.
Unfortunately, humans are well, human and prone to errors and emotion. When an official makes a bad call or misses one, the inclination may be to fix the mistake – the make up call. An honest official will admit to partaking in a make up call, here and there. In the course of a basketball game, it’s just one of many whistles blown along the way, in horse racing it stands out like the sore thumb that it is.
Were the Saratoga stewards feeling the need to make a decision to disqualify the horse in race 10 after deciding not to disqualify the winner in race 5? Maybe? Maybe not? We’ll never know for sure. At least the New York Racing Association posts their stewards decision online for all to see. (Although only the race 5 decision is posted for July 26.)
In the second instance, comparing different tracks, days or years apart, inconsistency forms in the mind of the bettor or the horse’s human connections. Here, we, handicappers discuss the Cotillion in the same breath as the Personal Ensign knowing full well these are two different racing jurisdictions with a different set of stewards.
Meanwhile Elate’s trainer Bill Mott wondered aloud if Saratoga racing had become “the wild, wild west” when jockey Jose Ortiz almost “got knocked off,” in the Personal Ensign. He also harkened back to last year’s Alabama Stakes when Abel Tasman squeezed Elate on the rail close to the wire saying, “The only way they can beat us is if they bother us.”
For the understated Mott, this is like yelling from atop a light post with a bullhorn. In the betting world, we pull our hair out and hope that our racing luck doesn’t also have to run through the stewards office.
And while the horse racing game has transformed from a local event to a national betting opportunity, through technology and legislation, its rules have not kept up. My rally cry continues, create a national set of disqualifying standards, follow them, site them, and broadcast the decision from the stewards office to the public when they occur.
Players and horsemen know there will be mistakes, but are more likely to accept errors if the stewards have a clear path to follow and clearly communicate how they arrived at their decision and the standards that were followed. Until then when an objection/inquiry sign goes up, deep breaths will be taken and frustration is likely to follow, which is not good for the game.
Photo of the Cotillion by Matt Shifman