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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation has released a new white paper. The only problem is that the well intentioned treatise tries to have it both ways.

First, it let Kentucky Derby stewards off the hook, Thoroughbred Idea Foundation executive director Pat Cummings explained: “Make no mistake, the stewards made the appropriate decision in light of the rules as they exist today in Kentucky…

Then, “there is still far more to be done to get us on the right track with a more consistent standard for adjudicating races.”

There’s nothing objectionable with the above. And we fully support the notion that incidents related to racing should be handled in a transparent fashion. But “particularly in light of the oversights apparent in the process of demoting Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby?”

Skip to the 1:20 mark to join the action just before the foul occurs

So it would have been OK for the stewards to make a bad call as long as they explain their reasoning to the public?

What this really is about is policy, and we agree further that adopting an international standard is the way to go. Exactly, as long as the issue is not raceday medication!

The international foul adjudication standard states that a horse can be demoted only if it prevented the fouled horse from winning the race. The current American standard is that a horse can be disqualified if it cost the fouled runner a better placing relative to the order of finish.

As we have stated at HRI before, the real problem is incompetency, not the rule.

The topic was discussed at last week’s annual Jockey Club Round Table conference in Saratoga Springs and a guest speaker cited the Derby as an example, the lecturer noting that Maximum Security did not cost another rival victory. Sorry, but he could not know that.

Eventual Preakness winner War of Will came scooting up the fence entering the far turn, tipped outside midturn and was inching closer to Maximum Security at that juncture.

Soon after entering the straight, a recovered War of Will made a second run that brought him on near even terms with Maximum Security despite the huge loss of momentum at a critical stage.

Head on from video with War of Will turned sideways
photo: Mark Casse

Who can say with certitude that he would not have beaten Maximum Security with a clear, unimpeded run? My guess is victory would have been highly unlikely. But I don’t know that, and neither does anyone else. That’s why we agreed with the stewards’ demotion because other horses were affected as well.

It would have been far better had the stewards been wired for sound, and explained to millions of viewers, gamblers, and fans what their considerations were that led to their decision.

There’s absolutely no excuse for a lack of transparency. If tracks cannot afford to turn the stewards stand into a remote studio, the very least they could do is compel them to issue a signed fully comprehensive report after every race, openly posted for review by interested stakeholders.

Stewards’ reports in states where they already exist vary widely in quality and detail. Pre-determined standards and process must be followed to the letter with respect to race adjudication and penalties.

An official that consistently errs should be subject to serious fines and suspensions; termination if necessary based on the egregiousness of the error or breach of protocols.

The problem with the international demotion standard is that it is unjust and would result in more careless race riding. If an incident caused by a much-the-best five-length winner cost a rival better money placing, why shouldn’t the transgressor be placed behind that rival?

What if the “clearly best winner” cost the rival he bothered second money because that horse lost a tight place photo?

The international standard fails to level a playing field. It does not make the game better. Of much greater significance, it doesn’t make a dangerous sport any safer.

©, All Rights Reserved, 2019

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

53 Responses

  1. John-
    I’ve always considered a foul to be a foul, even leaving the gate. If you don’t enforce the rule in that manner, some jockeys get reckless in order to gain an edge. Watch the head-on view out of the gate. Several jocks could get taken down every day. Leaving a horse up no matter what, just because the stewards think he would have won anyway, rewards owners and jockeys and disregards fair play and an even shake for the bettors. Also, there needs an adjustment to the small fines assessed when jockeys are guilty of an infraction because the large purses make the fines relatively meaningless.

  2. First let me say that I’ve been a harness racing official for the past 30 years. I have worked at a number of tracks in several different jurisdictions. In all jurisdictions where I’ve worked we have used basically the same premise and that is if a horse and or driver cause interference to another horse the offending horse will be placed behind all horses who were interfered with. Interference is called tighter in harness racing due to the fact that there is a much greater chance for accidents and injuries due to the addition of racing sulkies. Wheels may become hooked, drivers thrown out etc.
    I can’t understand how it seems fair to anyone to place/dq a horse only if the horse who was offended had a chance to beat the offending horse. How does that make sense and how is that protecting the interest’s of all involved? As stated in this article what if a horse finishes 3rd instead of 2nd because the winner caused interference? Is it fair that the owner loses purse money because of the winners interference? NO… I couldn’t disagree more with changing racing rules to only allow a horse to be placed if the offended horse had a chance to beat the offender. How can you tell for sure? You can’t and what we really need is well trained and experienced racing officials to make the decisions. Any official who consistently makes bad decisions should probably find a new profession. I’ve always thought that transparency of all decisions is of the utmost importance when making any decision pertaining to a placing/dq. Immediately following a decision by the officials, one of them should go on the in house TV system and explain exactly why the decision was made. Of course not all will agree even after hearing the explanation but at least they will know the reasons. I truly hope that jurisdictions don’t change to only making placings if a horse would surely have beat the offender. Its just not fair!!

    1. Michael, first, welcome aboard; it’s great to publish comments from stakeholders in the harness industry.

      After reading your remarks, I wish you could cross over to the Thoroughbred side. I completely agree with your reasoning.

      Yes, it’s about fairness, competency and transparency.

      Your participation here should shame Thoroughbred officials who do not have the courage to comment here, yea or nay. And we’re not sure that CYA mentality will ever change.

      Thanks again for having the courage and character to speak your mind.

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