09/29/2009 12:30PM

Fight the Power


If your horse has been disqualified by the stewards for some kind of interference after the running of a race in California, and you want to appeal that disqualification...you are out of luck. It has been this way since January of 1996, when Rule 1761(a) of the state racing rules was changed to read, "From every decision of the stewards, except a decision concerning the disqualification of a horse due to a foul or a riding or driving infraction, an appeal may be made to the Board."

In other words, live with it, or play somewhere else.

I mention this because Robert Evans, the owner of Marsh Side, is appealing the disqualification of his big horse from first to fourth after the running of the Northern Dancer Stakes at Woodbine on Sept. 20. March Side defeated Just as Well by half a length at the end of the mile and one-half, but it was the fourth-place finish of troubled Champs Elysees down along the rail that tripped the protest. Just as Well was elevated to the victory.

Canada, being a much less contentious place than California, sees no reason why the matter should not be discussed, and a case allowed to be made for reconsideration. A hearing before the Ontario Racing Commission will be held soon. Quite by coincidence, the Northern Dancer appeal follows fresh on the heels of the appeal over the disqualification of the British-owned and trained Prix Vermeille winner Da Re Mi at Longchamp on Sept. 13. The French authorities supported their stewards and let the disqualification stand.

Apparently, Marsh Side's people will suggest that the stewards also should have disqualified third-place Quijano for drifting inward, on the same errant path as Marsh Side, and forcing Champs Elysees into the rail. This presents obvious problems of interpretation. Were Marsh Side and his jockey, Javier Castellano, merely following Quijano's lead? Was Marsh Side the instigator, and Quijano, under Andrasch Starke, reacting out of self defense? And what of Champs Elysees and Garrett Gomez? Does a horse have a right to a hole on the rail if the hole closes before the horse establishes clear ownership?

There is nothing satisfying about a disqualification appeal, except for those owners who once in a great while manage to win one. The horseplayers who bet the disqualified winner are never served by the chance of a reversal, since their pari-mutuel dollars are already long gone. The authority of the stewards, tenuous as it may be, is undermined. Purses go without distribution--in the case of the Northern Dancer, a first-place purse of more than $400,000--and the poor guys inscribing the trophy are at a complete loss. On the bright side, attorneys get billable hours.

When you play a game you sign onto the rules, as well as the interpretation of those rules by designated officials. It must be taken on faith that the people who run the game respect the rules enough to hire qualified officials. If they don't, changes need to be made. And from time to time, a ruling may be so egregiously cockeyed that a robust appeal may be just the thing to shake the trees.

California outlawed DQ appeals in reaction to a pair of drawn-out cases that occupied way too much time and energy. In 1990, Del Mar Derby winner Tight Spot was disqualified from victory for herding the horses to his inside coming down the Del Mar 9-furlong turf chute. Itsallgreektome was elevated to the win. After several hearings, during which the stewards were poorly represented, the DQ was reversed in findings that Tight Spot was only following the angled trajectory of the horse to his inside. This was as subjective an interpretation as the original, and it did nothing for those who bet on Tight Spot in the first place.

In 1994, The Wicked North won the Santa Anita Handicap, but was placed fourth for interference at the top of the stretch. Camera angles were inconclusive (that's another story), but the performance of Alex Solis on the horse allegedly bothered was positively Shakespearean. An appeal ensued, at which The Wicked North's attorney tried to introduce a computer generated over-head view of the incident that he said would exonerate their horse. He was praised by the hearing officer for his initiative, but since the stewards did not have such a tool at their disposal when they made their decision, it was a pointless exercise. The disqualification stood.

There are few things more frustrating that being penalized for a crime you are certain you did not commit, just as the feelings of injustice over a perceived bad call can last a lifetime. I had three eyeball-high pitches called for strike three in three straight at-bats one afternoon long ago, by an ump who'd never been behind the plate before. I was 12, and I felt betrayed by a system I trusted. It is up to the people who run the game to make sure that trust does not wear too thin.

Jen More than 1 year ago
The bad news in Ontario is that rulings by the stewards are allowed to be appealed and once these issues go 'downtown' t the ORC folks, anything goes. Most of the time,the stewards ruling is tossed aside and the folks downtown decide on something entirely different. The ORC have time and again made it seem that the stewards' opinion means zippo. For sure it will overturn this ruling but the horse deserved to be disqualified. The ORC (not the stewards) is a very curious group.
gocashbaby More than 1 year ago
The Marsh Side DQ will be overturned. It was a joke.
one outcome 4 all More than 1 year ago
Yes jay l agree with you on the point of the inconsistent way the stewards work at woodbine, but larry is right about this being an integrity issue and the appeal process creating two outcomes from one race. When you have an appeal that is reinstated back to the way it ran on the racetrack , what exactly did the whole process prove? All they did was steal the money from the people who made the right bet in the first place. For you to say there are two bettors on both sides is just silly, but then again maybe they are fixing the outcomes for themselves mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, have those at the ontario racing commission become the horse racing version of the corner store lottery vendor? stealing the money of the rightful winners like thieves in the night. the plot thickens.mmmmmmmmmm,
Tony More than 1 year ago
Think the california wingnuts got it backwards. If the DQ is a shoddy one at best, all judiciousness for all parties involved should be welcomed, and not shut down. This is just one of many reasons why California racing is, generally speaking, an inferior racing product compared to the other jurisdictions.
donkeykong More than 1 year ago
Jay, Any DQ that occurs or does not occur at Woodbine these days will have bettors on both sides. But things have changed at this track. In the nineties you could tell what the Stewards were going to do just about every time. They saw what you saw. Not so today. It appears that a couple of Stewards have the "Jesus" complex and just for the sake of being argumentive, they will take a horse down, or leave him up when no rationale individual would do the same. Ask leading rider Patrick Husbands on how he was shut off on the rail in a turf race last year, clipped heels with the horse that lugged in on him and went down. A ten minute inquiry left the offending horse up! Check it out. As Gump says:"stupid is as stupid does" and the ruling that day was to put it simply-STUPID. But when they play God, what can you do?
Mr405807 More than 1 year ago
I bet Marsh Side (a modest wager, to be sure, but then, all of 'em are)and knew I was cooked when Gomez took up on the rail. It's a specious argument-he did it too, Mom-and I don't think it has a prayer. Do feel for N. Drysdale, however, who has watched two graded victories go up in smoke north of the border.
larry roswell More than 1 year ago
First off l want to thank you jay for writing this,THIS IS AN ISSUE THAT THE HORSE RACING MEDIA CONTINUES TO IGNORE AT THE EXSPENCE OT THE BETTING PUBLIC. As a long suffering canadian fan of horse racing l have seen so much incompetence at woodbine racetrack l have pretty much decided to quit betting horses altogether, appeals are a cancer that feed on themselves and only insure there will be another one and another one and another one. Dick geradi is right get rid of the stewards and just pay the race out the way it ran on the racetrack for the betting public. let the inquiry go to what is now the appeals process . This is a much bigger integrity issue for the horse racing public than is currently recognized by the hoity toity fools running racing at the ontario racing commision. ONTARIO NEEDS TO DO WHAT CALIFORNIA HAS DONE AND BAN ALL APPEALS WHILE TAKING A TOUGHER STAND TOWARDS DISQUALIFING HORSES THAT SHOULD NOT BE GETTING DISQUALIFIED TO BEGIN WITH!This is something that goes back to the days of an owner named conn smythe who did not beleive in inquirys, l may only be a low life in the eyes of the almighty at the ontario racing commision but l will continue to fight the good fight on mr.smythes behalf until my dying day! lm sure is with me in spirit.
Octave-the-Rave More than 1 year ago
J-Dey, That kind of bed-wetting, bleeding heart drivel I've come to expect from the likes of Dean Beyer, not you. Appeal a DQ? Who cares? DQs have become a huge scourge on the game. They're purely subjective; waste an inordinant amount of time; and generally have robbed the game of what once was one of its most exciting features: race riding. Need proof? Just go watch the Derby replay. Watch how many different riders had a chance to stop Mine That Bird in his tracks, and instead let Borel waltz through the pack unimpeded. 20 years ago, his ass would have been in the infield with the drunks. A better piece would be to rid the sport entirely of DQs. Let 'em race. Put some NASCAR and MMA into the game, as in ... "down the stretch they come, and ..... ohhhhh, Bejarano lands a vicious backhand to Leperoux's forehead and the little French creme puff has no response!" I'm being only slightly facetious here, mindful of how desperately the sport needs to entice young players.
rhetor81 More than 1 year ago
I'm SOOOO tired of hearing people whine about The Wicked North DQ. Get over it! The Wicked North DID interfere with Myraklu, BIG TIME! I watched anxiously from the stands as Kent robbed me. . . Those were the days when folks would bet a goat down to 6/5 if Kent D. was riding it. Myraklu was a plodder who who was just coming on when Kent did his magic. Thanks, Kent! I'll always remember it. At least my buddy hit Stuka.