03/06/2011 12:32AM

Big ’Cap no DQ


Stewards screwed up by not disqualifying the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap.

“Total bull-….,” one trainer said.

Stewards made the right call by letting the order of finish stand.

“If you’re unsure, don’t change it,” said another observer.

No middle ground allowed. Split decision? Majority rule.

Steward Kim Sawyer voted to disqualify the Big ’Cap winner for causing interference at the top of the stretch. Tom Ward and Scott Chaney voted to let the result stand.

By a 2-1 vote, the Big ’Cap was declared official 12 minutes after Game on Dude, Setsuko and Quindici Man finished one-two-three. Twirling Candy had an impossible trip and finished fifth. His coronation as best horse in America must wait for another day.

In the meantime, there will be plenty to debate.

At the top of the stretch in the Big ’Cap, there were three across the track – Game on Dude inside, Twirling Candy between, and Setsuko outside.

What happened next, and how stewards ruled, is the source of controversy.

It initially appeared Game on Dude drifted out under left-hand whipping, which squeezed Twirling Candy. He steadied and dropped out.

Setsuko, on the outside, got bumped hard in the chain reaction. He took all the worst of it. On that account, the three stewards agreed.

“We held (Setsuko) blameless, and he was clearly interfered with,” Chaney said. “So the question was, who’s to blame – the inside horse (Game on Dude) or the middle horse (Twirling Candy)?”

If the middle horse (Twirling Candy) was to blame, there could be no change because Twirling Candy finished behind Setsuko. But if stewards ruled it was winner Game on Dude that caused the interference, then he would have to come down.

“(Twirling Candy) initiated contact,” Chaney stated. “Our determination was (Game on Dude) maintained a straight course.”

That view was shared by Chaney and Ward, who said Twirling Candy came in and bumped first with Game on Dude. In their opinion, it was Twirling Candy that instigated it all. Game on Dude subsequently came back out, but Chaney said “it’s really Twirling Candy that caused the ping-ponging.”

Meanwhile, Sawyer held that Twirling Candy and Game on Dude were both at fault. She believed their mutual ricochet forced Twirling Candy to knock into Setsuko.

“Twirling Candy and (Game on Dude) I felt had equal contact, and (Setsuko) was the one that got bothered,” Sawyer said. “I think they came in, and out, equal amounts and they bumped into (Setsuko).”

Sawyer would have disqualified Game on Dude and placed him second, behind Setsuko. Twirling Candy, because he finished behind those two, would not be penalized.

Game on Dude’s trainer Bob Baffert reached stewards by phone while they debated. “They wouldn’t talk to me,” he said. Baffert was asked what he wanted to say to the stewards. “What did I want to say? I can’t remember.”

For better or worse, the 2011 Big ‘Cap is one few will ever forget.

Frank E. Kilroe recap

Fluke and Caracortado were separated by a head in the fastest turf mile of the meet (1:33.50). The difference was explained by winning jockey Rafael Bejarano.

“I stayed on the rail and waited,” he said. Bejarano kept Fluke ($7.40) fifth on the rail in the strung-out field. The outcome was decided by Bejarano’s decision at the quarter pole.

Rather than swing to the outside, Bejarano cut the corner with Fluke. That left only one option. He would have to rally inside horses in the stretch, scraping paint past tired rivals. That can be a tough spot.

On the far turn, jockey Joe Talamo had positioned Caracortado directly right behind Fluke. Into the stretch, Talamo swung Caracortado outside for a clear run.

That was the difference. When Caracortado swung outside, Fluke cut the corner and gained instant separation from his rival, at least two lengths.

Both horses finished. Fluke found a seam along the rail; Caracortado split horses outside. Caracortado had all the momentum, but Fluke would not let him by.

It was a good race by two good turf milers who are likely to meet again. Lost in the Kilroe shuffle was an outstanding comeback by Acclamation. He was hounded through an insane pace, stuck in to inside the eighth pole, and tired to fifth.

Acclamation, a Grade 1 winner, is back. He will be a California force in the spring-summer turf stakes.

Santa Anita Oaks recap

It sure was refreshing to hear a winning trainer offer objective, critical analysis after a Grade 1.

Turbulent Descent ($4) was fully extended to win the mile and a sixteenth Santa Anita Oaks, after which a candid Mike Puype crossed off the Kentucky Oaks from her list of objectives.

“She’s going to need to cut back in distance,” Puype said. “We were maxed out at a mile and a sixteenth today.” He said Turbulent Descent (4-for-5) was likely to aim toward one-turn races in New York including the Acorn at Belmont and Test at Saratoga.

The frank assessment by Puype makes sense. Turbulent Descent won the Oaks in a moderate 1:41.05 with a perfect trip behind a slow pace.

The grinding finish by runner-up Zazu was okay. She should run on. It was five and one-half lengths back to third place A Z Warrior, racing for the first time in four months. A Z Warrior also may aim for a sprint campaign later this spring in New York.

The filly distance division was shallow this winter; California’s leading Kentucky Oaks hope was out most of the season. She is Dan Hendricks-trained Rigoletta, winner of the Oak Leaf last fall and fifth in a good recent comeback sprint. Rigoletta will stretch out for her next start, expected to be March 12 the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park.