Long ago in a land far away, a place called Saratoga, I rushed into the stewards stand after the second race on Saturday afternoon, August 2, 1986, to inform the New York stewards that when they disqualified Allumeuse, they had taken down the wrong horse.
But that was like a day at Frank’s Beach compared to what happened in the finale on Fountain of Youth day when $20 million was wagered on the Fountain of Youth program, the first time that figure was surpassed in the new structure on a non-Florida Derby day race card.
With over $1.2 million dollars in the carryover pot and another half-million spent chasing it on Saturday, there was to be a single winner of $1.6 million in the Rainbow 6 jackpot when 15-1 Collinito finished first beneath Luis Saez.
But then the stewards posted an inquiry and jockey Paco Lopez, on 39-1 shot Strategic Keeper, lodged an objection against Saez for alleged interference soon after entering the stretch.
The Florida stewards, after their usual lengthy deliberations, disqualified Collinito from first and placed him second.
Ironically, even though Strategic Keeper was more than double the odds of Collinito, there was more than one winning ticket on the winning 11-12-3-5-4-13 sequence paying over $36,600, thus creating a carryover into the Sunday program of more than $1.3 million.
Two observations: It was the worst beat at the races I’ve seen. And while it would have been a very close call either way, the stewards made the right call. Clearly, I’m in the minority of horseplayers here.
Saturday night and early Sunday morning, the Twitterverse and the PaceAdvantage.com chat room exploded, the sentiment running almost 4-1 against the disqualification.
Able to watch the stewards’ tapes of the incident more times than I can remember on Sunday afternoon, with slow-motion capability, did nothing to dissuade my original position that the disqualification, while a close one, was righteous and just.
Soon after entering the stretch, Collinito drifted out approximately four paths into the lane occupied Strategic Keeper, forcing Lopez twice to bend his mount in half. Further, the second finisher appeared to lug in, compelling Lopez to gather his mount, which only added to the confusion. But the harm already had been done.
Upon straightening out in deep stretch and getting clear to the outside of Collinito, Strategic Keeper re-rallied and was getting to Collinito rapidly in the final strides, losing by a rapidly diminishing neck.
In my view, the original winner caused a lot more than a neck’s worth of trouble, thus the disqualification. Saez was suspended three days for the infraction.
Observers are allowed to see these incidents in a different way, the reason why they are referred to as judgment calls. Controversial judgment calls happen in virtually all sports, only not when people are legally betting their money on the outcome. And let’s face it; horseplayers, even if their concerns are largely ignored by track executives, are a vocal lot, mostly negative in nature, especially when it involves winning and losing.
I will wager that no bettor before or after Saturday’s 12th race at Gulfstream Park ever will have suffered a worse “beat.”
By definition, parimutuel wagering is a zero-sum game and arguably as many bettors benefitted from the decision than were harmed; the fact that more Rainbow 6 tickets were sold using #13 speaks to that.
But American horse racing, with its lack of transparency on virtually every level, deserves the cynicism it sows. For instance, I don’t want to read why stewards made their decisions after the fact.
I, and the majority of horseplayers I know, want to see the foul adjudication process live and in real time. Simply install a camera in the stewards’ stand, turn on the audio, and allow bettors to eavesdrop on the proceedings.
HRI questioned Gulfstream President and CEO Tim Ritvo Sunday afternoon about televising the review process and other issues arising from Saturday’s disqualification:
“I love the idea,” said Ritvo. “A live camera in there would give us full transparency. We do it at the [Kentucky] Derby once a year. Why not do it all the time?”
HRI: Will-Pays are no longer posted for the Rainbow 6 although the information is readily available. Why?
A: “The tote company would not provide Will-Pays after the Fair Grounds incident a few years ago. There was a late scratch in the final race in their jackpot bet and a bettor with the scratched horse was moved to the post time favorite by rule.
“When the favorite won, there were two live tickets instead of one. They’re afraid they would be liable in some way when things like this happen.”
“If that happens to a bettor here and the scratched horse makes him live to the post-time favorite winner, we pay the jackpot as long as the ticket belongs to one bettor and the sequence is on one ticket.”
HRI: Were you involved in the decision making process with the stewards via phone which some observers said they saw during the process? It was also reported on HRTV that you had a ‘sick look’ on your face when the inquiry sign went up?
A: “I had no contact with the stewards and phone records would prove that. I am [not a litigious person] but we’re thinking about suing those persons. Besides, [stewards] Don Brumfield and Jeffrey Noe would never listen to me.
“The sick look on my face is because the last thing I want to see in the final race are foul claims, horses scratched at the gate or a rider falling off his horse. I don’t want to see anything happen that might give bettors the wrong impression.”
HRI: Some sharp bettors, citing a turf race won by Old Time Hockey, claim the stewards have exhibited something of a laissez faire policy in the adjudication of turf races this meet, forgiving more contact than they would on dirt. Is that accurate, and where is the consistency in officiating?
A: “I’d have to look at that race, but I’ll tell you this. They took down Javier Castellano one day when he was four in front turning for home for drifted out. “He blamed it on the lights or shadows or something. If you look at that race you'll see the consistency of [Saturday’s] call.”
HRI: As of mid-Sunday morning, only the Am-West website was showing the head-on replay of the final race even though they showed the head-on in all other races. What happened?
A: “I have no idea. We showed it here while the stewards were looking at their films. The idea that that was a conspiracy is absurd. There are a lot of gray decisions in racing but we stand behind [Saturday’s] stewards decision one hundred percent.”
HRI: In general, doesn’t the lack of transparency in these kinds of incidents have an adverse effect on wagering integrity?
A: “Throughout the history of our game, there have always been controversial calls. In sports like football or basketball today, officials can watch replays. In racing, the stewards can look at things over and over for as long as it takes from every angle, including slow-motion.”
HRI:Gulfstream has a vested interest in the results since carryovers generate added handle. Isn’t this true and how much of a difference does this make?
A: “On a good weekend, $500,000 is bet into a carryover pool, $300,000 during the week. The blended takeout rate is 20 percent for the entire country so that leaves $100,000 for all the tracks. Our share of that is 7 percent, of which 3.5 percent goes to the horsemen, that’s about $35,000 for us.”
HRI: Is there a chance that Saturday’s incident could result in a criminal investigation?
A: “We are completely confident the stewards made the right decision and would have no problem talking to anybody about it. We feel bad for the customer, it probably was the worst bad beat ever. But I have not gotten any calls about it from the customer complaining about the decision.”