01/16/2014 12:02PM

Harness Racing: To DQ or not to DQ?


Few occurrences in racing bring about more controversy than a disqualification. Just like when a National Football League referee goes under the hood of the camera and rules in favor of one team or another, judges are entrusted with the unenviable task of deciding right from wrong on the track.

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On Friday (1/10) at The Meadowlands, Marty Party crossed the wire first but was found to have caused interference to Cheyenne Miriam and subsequently placed fourth. Marty Party and driver Ron Pierce attempted to make the lead but was having a hard time getting around the headstrong Stage It Right. Pierce, never afraid to make a bold maneuver, elected to take a hold of his charge and try to squeeze into the pocket. As he began to make his way to the pylon position, Cheyenne Miriam was still occupying at least part of that spot and driver David Miller had to check his horse slightly to avoid incident.

Watch it for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQucWJyhlHs&list=PLghiEX0nhWEwgtsBdhBU5LuHW5nzcsuzk&index=20

At least that is the way I originally saw the incident. I watched it a few times as the judges reviewed the action on the live feed and concluded that Pierce’s horse should be taken down. Shortly after, I had the joy of viewing an interview with Pierce live from the Meadowlands’ paddock (great job by the track getting him on the air to explain his side). Pierce explained the situation from his standpoint, saying that he was waiting on the outside for room to develop and he did not make his move until clearance existed. He added that how it looks on the camera is often different than what drivers see on the track.

My first thought was that Pierce was simply just sour over the situation and his statements were somewhat irrelevant when the video evidence seemed to present a different picture.

Fast forward to Sunday night . . . while watching the Meadowlands Replay Show, I decided to think about what Pierce said while watching the race. With the knowledge from Pierce, I saw the on-track events in an entirely new light. After grabbing hold of his horse, Pierce clearly idles on the rim for a moment before lining up along the pylons. Did Miller check his horse slightly? Yes. But after watching a few times, part of me sees Miller urging his horse on to keep the hole closed and the action of grabbing his horse as an admission that his horse just couldn’t accomplish that task.

Let’s also add into the conversation that while checked briefly, Miller’s horse did not lose any momentum (though it certainly changed his tactics as the race progressed) and none of the trailers behind him were affected. Which leads to the question: Was the disqualification necessary?

According to Miller, the answer is a resounding yes. Miller, who admitted that the judges never asked for his opinion (which is a bit troubling in my view), said he thought Pierce had about three-quarters of a length (less than what is needed to fit a horse and sulky) and he was none too happy with Pierce’s decision.

“If he was driving on the road you’d call him reckless and be cursing him out,” said Miller. “He definitely interfered with me and I didn’t like it.”

My rule of thumb is that you only take a horse and driver down if there is no doubt their actions were improper. In this case, while I can’t crucify the Judges for their decision (hey, even I originally was fine with the DQ), I’m left with doubt. What do you think?