Friday, February 28, 2014
Gulfstream Stewards Inert; Track Takes Action
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 28, 2014—As Gulfstream Park’s Rainbow 6 Jackpot continues its ascent to well over $1.7 million, the heat on the Florida stewards remains intense in the wake of a non-disqualification in Thursday’s sixth race, clearly a case of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
The undeniable inconsistency in the wake of Saturday’s controversial disqualification in the final leg of the Rainbow 6 Jackpot that denied a single winner $1.6 million, thereby extending the carryover, created a firestorm of bad will.
Thursday’s non-disqualification for virtually the same offense has members of the Horseplayers Association of North America calling for a boycott of Gulfstream’s races until the stewards are either suspended or fired.
The HANA boycott of Santa Anita’s races in 2011 following an unconscionable rise in the rate of parimutuel takeout was extremely effective as horseplayers spoke with one voice for the first time ever.
According to Blood Horse’s figures compiled at meet’s end, gross handle, with eight fewer racing days, declined by nearly 21 percent. The largest declines were off-track; the California ADWs down by more than 20 percent while out-of-state simulcasts were off 23 percent. Total daily average handle declined from $7.5 million to $6.6 million year over year.
While this is a different issue, it’s clear that horseplayers are extremely frustrated and are prepared to take action on what is perceived as a national epidemic of inconsistent rulings. The rules of racing are virtually the same all over but the manner of interpretation varies, sometimes widely, and therein lays a problem.
Reasonable horseplayers can accept, albeit grudgingly, different styles when it comes to adjudicating fouls, like knowledge of umpires having a wider strike zone or fouls that are not called in the final minute of a tied basketball game.
In racing, some judges are strict constructionists, on the lookout for lane violations—a foul is a foul is a foul. At other venues, the practice is to allow trained eyes to make judgment calls after close inspection of video replays to determine whether an incident cost a rival a placing.
In both cases, the emphasis is on what happens as horses battle down the stretch toward the finish for the pot of gold that awaits owners, trainers, jockeys and, yes, horseplayers, without whom there would be no one to support the industry.
Money makes the mare go, as old school racetrackers say. But bettors know it’s their money that enables parimutuel horse racing and now are demanding, and getting, however grudgingly, a seat at the table.
As an observer of the betting public and a public handicapper for four decades, I can testify that I never have seen this much outrage which today is only heightened by the presence of Internet gadflies and social media.
All events are now in real time and the absence of acceptable standards of communication and behavior often has resulted in a lack of objectivity, responsibility and accountability. In the Gulfstream case, civility and reason has taken a hit within the horse racing community of which we are all members.
After having viewed all replays of Saturday’s final race at Gulfstream from vantage points not available to the public, including rear tower shots and slow motion, my original opinion that the disqualification of Collinito was the right call was confirmed.
Parenthetically, the public should have online access to all available angles.
I had no dog in Saturday’s fight but I did Thursday, having selected and made a small wager on 7-1 winner Hard Enough. Once again, all things being equal, I would have allowed the result to stand and here’s why:
While Paco Lopez brought his mount out 3 paths under left-hand whipping and bumped with Cummings Road near the finish, it was difficult to discern from the video whether the incident occurred at or just after the dueling horses crossed the finish line noses apart.
Further, third finisher Burn the Mortgage was angled out by Javier Castellano looking to rally while splitting rivals. There was not enough room and Castellano was forced to steady his mount, essentially contributing to his own problems.
As for Cummings Road, he had every chance to win. In fact, from the pan view it appeared that he gained a very slight lead in deep stretch but was out-gamed at the wire.
If I was certain that the bump occurred at the finish line, I would have disqualified Hard Enough. But if the incident occurred at the wire after the race was over, I would have allowed the result to stand.
Not being sure of when that or any other incident occurs, I invoke the Any-Given-Sunday rule that the evidence was inconclusive and would have allowed the result to stand in that case. To me, this was a judgment call to end all judgment calls.
However, this is not the point, and all things were not equal. In Thursday’s bang-bang incident, the Gulfstream stewards, in the name of consistency, and with all the attendant publicity given Collinito, Hard Enough should have been disqualified.
All horseplayers really want is consistency and transparency. Because of their inconsistency, the Gulfstream stewards as a group might have done irreparable harm to the track’s stature and the credibility of its management.
The three stewards should have stepped up on Sunday, held a press preference to explain the process and take responsibility for their actions. Stewards are not above acting in the best interests of the racing public.
Kentucky Chief Steward John Veitch was suspended and fired because of a lapse in judgment four years ago. I thought the Gulfstream stewards got the decision right both times and, while contradictory, it would have been better for all concerned had they been consistent on two close calls.
Absent that, they needed to step up instead of allowing the chips to fall.
GULFSTREAM TO BECOME MORE TRANSPARENT: Gulfstream Park announced today it will begin instituting changes to provide bettors more information and greater transparency whenever there is a disqualification or objection on any of its races.
"We truly believe the bettor deserves a detailed explanation as to why a horse has been disqualified," said Gulfstream President Tim Ritvo. "The bettor is not only the economic engine that drives this sport but he and she is also the biggest fan of the sport. We need to continue to find ways to improve the integrity and transparency.
“We have not done a good job explaining why our stewards have disqualified a horse and we're going to change that. We have a few changes we will implement immediately and are studying a number of ideas, including a camera and microphone in the stewards' booth.
"Obviously there's never going to be a 100 percent consensus whether a horse should or should not be taken down. We want stewards to be consistent but we also want them to treat each race individually because every scenario is different. We want them to be quick but some decisions take longer. We feel we can provide our bettors more information that's more timely.
Track announcer Larry Collmus will provide a detailed explanation for any ruling while a replay of the infraction is highlighted and played from pan and head-on angles. A statement by the stewards will be posted on Gulfstream Park's website under disqualifications in a timely fashion.
"There will be things we add and maybe a few we subtract, but our decisions will be based on what is best for our bettors. If these changes work at Gulfstream, we will roll them out across all Stronach Group tracks."
Written by John Pricci