07/05/2009 8:26PM

Judge Not


Eight years ago, in a Daily Racing Form guest column, my Philadelphia colleague Dick Jerardi proposed a racing world without stewards. More specifically, a world without stewards' disqualifications, without their post-race meddling in what has already occurred. At the time, this position struck me as extreme, kind of like a Libertarian's take on the Motor Vehicle Code. A free market economy is one thing, but total anarchy? Besides, it is hard for me to believe that any self-respecting horseplayer could live with his or her conscience if they cashed on a horse who got away with cheating.

But read the Jerardi piece for yourself (http://www.drf.com/drfNewsArticle.do?NID=30072&subs=0&arc=1). Perhaps Dick has disciples. In the meantime, it should be pointed out that California is taking slow, incremental steps in the direction called for by Jerardi, although for all the wrong reasons. It's the economy. And it's stupid.

For starters, California's stewards are currently being paid by IOU, or at least they will be if the state budget impasse is not resolved this week. Last year, when the governor and the legislature put California through a similar ordeal, the state-paid stewards went from July 1 into September collecting IOUs instead of paychecks. Those who did not have access to family trust funds had to rely on savings and credit cards. Since it is not readily apparent if such a situation affects the work of the stewards, I asked Scott Chaney, one of the three currently serving at Hollywood Park, to comment. It also should be noted that Chaney suffers from a highly evolved sense of dark humor.

"You get what you pay for," Chaney replied, but only because he saw I was about to say the same thing.

All racing board personnel are affected by the budget crisis, so don't lose any sleep about the stewards eating dog food. However, in the case of stewards, the decision-makers at the racing board have established a built-in answer for anyone who might complain about the temporary lack of pay. Don't like it? No sweat. We've just eliminated your job.

Citing budget concerns, the California board has cut back from the three-steward staffing at two long-standing venues. So far. There are now just two stewards on the job at the year-round Los Alamitos quarter horse meet. And at the nifty little Humboldt County Fair, which runs Aug. 13-23 in the town of Ferndale, there will only be one person answering to the honorific, "Hey, Judge. You suck." It will be a sad and lonely job.

Such cutbacks should worry someone. If the afternoon responsibilities of stewards are to be taken seriously, two in the stand flies in the face of the deliberative process, and one judge makes no sense at all, unless it's Judge Judy or Judge Penny.

Tom Ward, who serves alongside Chaney at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, is a veteran in the stewards' role at Ferndale as well. When asked about split decisions in a two-person board, Ward suggested using a possession arrow, flipped back and forth from race to race. In case there's no money in the budget for such a sophisticated piece of equipment, a spirited best-of-three round of rochambeau would work as well as anything. Or perhaps the racing board could encourage the hiring of schizophrenics to ensure a diversity of opinion.

 Eve 2 

The California Racing Board unveils it's new recruiting poster for stewards

As for a one-steward show at Ferndale, Ward, who knows the old-fashioned facility well, had to wonder, "What happens when you've got to go to the bathroom?"