Racing's stewards are more inconsistent than $2,500 claimers. A foul meriting disqualification at one track is an "as is" at other venues.Racing should take a lesson from the major team sports and remove decision-making from local officials and allow a central office to adjudicate foul claims and inquiries. Baseball, football and basketball have shown how easily and effectively this can be done. There's no reason for racing not to follow suit.


Racing needs to take a page from Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA. All have gone from instant replay decisions being made on site by game officials to relying on a central office at a remote location.

Last Saturday’s Gold Cup at Santa Anita is the latest example of a non-decision igniting controversy racing doesn't need. Martin Garcia aboard favored American Freedom allowed his mount to veer out at the start, blasting third choice Follow Me Crev, who didn’t recover until he was near the back of the pack.

Garcia is not a stranger to this kind of controversy. Remember what he did aboard Bayern in the 2014 Breeders Cup Classic. This time, like then, the see-no-evil stewards at Santa Anita did nothing. They didn’t even call Garcia in to talk to him.

What caused a foul odor to settle over the event was the fact that American Freedom’s stablemate in the Bob Baffert barn, Cupid, got the money. Collusion is as difficult to prove in racing as it is in politics. I’ve been going to the races for a half-century and I’ve never seen a horse taken down because of a foul by an entry-mate. It becomes even more complicated when horses from the same barn run uncoupled. But when has this ever stopped a bettor holding a losing ticket from screaming he has been robbed?

The bigger issue is some jurisdictions have a laissez faire attitude about what happens out of the gate. This will probably continue until someone gets maimed or killer. Thankfully, others are not as lenient. Likewise, at some tracks, an infraction has to cost a rival a position to cause a disqualification. At others, a foul is a foul.

This sort of inconsistency is unacceptable in an era where simulcast fans bet a variety of tracks. This is where a central office of judges comes in. If the same people made the calls on racing in California as in New York, in Florida as in Kentucky, players would have a reasonable expectation of what decisions will be.

The ideal composition of such a panel would be retired stewards, trainers and jockeys—maybe even a veteran member of the racing media--people who know the game best through years of participation. A side benefit would be the people making the decisions would not be social buddies with those they are ruling upon, which is the case at almost every track.

Obviously, with racing 18 hours a day, seven days a week, multiples of each would be needed but not so many that expenses would be prohibitive. Shared by several tracks, costs would be easily manageable.

The argument that with so many races going on in proximity and the possibility of simultaneous inquiries this is not workable does not stand up to scrutiny. Baseball has 15 games most nights and it gets decisions made a lot faster than a typical race track inquiry. Same for football and basketball.

This would not alleviate the need for stewards. The major sports still have full crews of game officials. One of their duties is to signal to the central office that there is something worth reviewing. Local stewards could do the same. They also would retain their other responsibilities in meting out suspensions, supervising entries and other local activities. So nobody loses a job while the sport gets rid of some headaches.

Who’s out, who’s in?

The Belmont Stakes card keeps losing major players.

The centerpiece event already has been diminished by the loss of the Derby and Preakness winners. This past week the connections of Blue Grass winner Irap decided to go in a different direction, the Ohio Derby.

The HRI staff will have a lot more on the races next week, but more than a week out, Classic Empire is looking to me more and more like an almost single, with a few savers on the stranger danger, Japan’s Epicharis.

The biggest of the stellar undercard races also has suffered a major loss. Wednesday it was announced that Connect, who is bidding to become racing’s next big star, is out of the Met Mile with an injury. This leaves the race at the mercy of Sharp Azteca, one of the top milers in the world. His gallant second in Dubai only enhanced that status.

The return of Songbird in the Ogden Phipps is a day-maker in itself. There have been some great fillies in recent years and Songbird is right up there with all of them. She might not race in the East again so she's worth going out to see. She’s a single no matter who shows up against her.

A Just a Game showdown between the sizzling Chad Brown’s imports, Antonoe and Roca Rojo vs. streaking Dickinson (Lady Eli made her look even better in winning the Gamely) is worth the inflated price of admission.

On the downside, NYRA has announced only three possibilities for the Easy Goer. If more can’t be hustled this will be the second time in three years the mile and a sixteenth stakes has had a field of three. Last year it drew an overflow five.

With the Woody Stephens at 7 furlongs and the Belmont Stakes on the same card, there are just not enough stakes-worthy 3-year-olds to produce a representative field. The Easy Goer should either be relocated or scrapped.

Early Twilight

Twilight arrives later during the summer in most locales. One exception is Gulfstream Park. Twilight starts at 2:15 p.m.—about the same time it does in Alaska in winter—beginning this Friday. Through the beginning of September, Gulfstream will stage “twilight” racing every Friday.

There’s a simple explanation for twilight coming in the middle of the afternoon and ending while it’s still bright daylight in South Florida. As I’ve mentioned before, a law on the books dictates that there be no thoroughbred racing after 7 p.m.

The now pointless rule was created decades ago at the behest of greyhound tracks and jai alai frontons to protect their monopoly on evening racing. These days, the dog tracks and frontons themselves don’t want to protect their live product. They have been fighting for decoupling for the past several years because their racinos are far more lucrative than races and games.

Moreover, the rule was passed before the era of simulcasting. It’s likely the dogs and jai alai generate more revenue from simulcast bets on horse tracks than their own live contests.

With no known constituency to resist its repeal, the 7 p.m. restriction endures through inertia. The only time it comes into play during the prime winter season is Florida Derby Day, scheduled deep enough into spring that there is still daylight past 7 p.m. Most of the rest of the meeting dusk arrives well before 7. So Gulfstream hasn’t made its repeal a priority or even a consideration.

Absent the rule, Gulfstream could have genuine twilight racing, a 4 p.m. start that would allow a 9-race card to be completed in the vicinity of 8 p.m. when there is still plenty of daylight. So if the twilight cards prove successful, especially toward their back end, maybe Gulfstream finally will be moved to have the 7 p.m. deadline stricken when the legislature meets next year.

A possible welcome change in the Gulfstream agenda is the addition of live racing on Mondays during the Saratoga season. The Spa is the only major track in the nation that races on Mondays, so there are long gaps of nothingness for simulcast players in the 30-35 minutes between races. Gulfstream surely would prove to be a more attractive alternative than the minor venues available.

When it was suggested to Gulfstream CEO Tim Ritvo, he liked the idea. Thinking out loud, he said, “We’d certainly do better on a Monday during Saratoga then we would on a Wednesday (the day likely to be dropped if the shift happens).”

Ritvo’s history is when he hears an idea that strikes him as good for racing and Gulfstream, he makes it happen.

Miami, June 1, 2017