John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Making the Case for Consistency


Last week, the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation [TIF] issued a 24-page report: “Changing the Rules: Clarity and consistency in the adjudication of North American racing is possible with a shift [in] philosophy.”

Arguments on both sides of the disqualification issue come down to what the standard that guides American stewards in their process should be:

Should the order of finish change only when it costs the impeded runner a better placing or is a clear foul a foul wherever it occurs, “incidents at the start” notwithstanding?


The TIF contends there is one alternative that would result in far fewer inquiries and fewer “demotions,” as they term it.

As a result, the think tank insists that racing would get greater consistency for a betting sport upon which all stakeholders would benefit; jockeys, trainers, owners and bettors – if all understood what a foul is.

The present methodology, as defined by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, indicates that only the U.S. and Canada interpret fouls by stating “the interferer is placed behind the sufferer irrespective of whether the sufferer would have finished in front of the interferer had the incident(s) not occurred.”

A foul is a foul is a foul.

But many major jurisdictions on the continent, notably those in place in New York and California, deem the process a judgment call. To wit:

“If in the opinion of a relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the placings will remain unaltered.”

What was interesting, from charts published in the TIF study, was that compared to stewards in New York, their California colleagues in interpreted the language significantly stricter, proportionately resulting in more demotions.

Given that these two circuits that do the most business in America, and the fact they assess race incidences in varying degrees, it’s easy to understand why the disqualification process causes so much consternation among horsemen and horseplayers alike.

The TIF recommendation argues in favor of common-sense visual interpretation that would not demote the “obviously best” horse on technical grounds, insisting this approach would result in greater understanding of how races are adjudicated.

In my view, demotions that occur due to careless riding or wantonly obvious intimidation that the enhanced penalty structure recommended in the TIF report for jockeys be put in place.

And if the stewards then deem these incidences as actionable, their penalties, be they suspensions or fines, should be subject to the current appeals used by jockeys.

The appeals process is one of the most ill-treated remedies in the sport, if not THE most abused. It is common knowledge and an unfunny joke that jockeys delay penalties until it’s convenient, allowing them to honor stakes engagements or serve their time on dark days or during the holiday season.

The TIF Report admits that its recommendation will not eliminate stewards’ reviews in close finishes, citing two of the most controversial high profile examples of the season:

Elate vs Able Tasman in the Personal Ensign and Midnight Bisou vs Monomoy Girl in the Cotillion. The first objection was overruled; the latter sustained. Both decisions attracted loud detractors.

In order to enable the desired consistency, a good start might be a change rulings language in New York and California. We believe such a change would bring qualitative analysis on both coasts more in line because it is subject to the same interpretation by similarity in language.

In that instance, competence, objectivity and race watching sophistication would remain prerequisite. Political appointees need not apply.


Written by John Pricci

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