07/05/2009 9:26PM

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?"

slewofdamascus More than 1 year ago
PS - see Ernie's post, to witness how this sort of (sad)thing gets perpetuated. I am really disgusted right now, I didn't even see that before I wrote the previous entry, btw, but that's a great example of what I'm talking about.
slewofdamascus More than 1 year ago
You're an excellent writer, Jay, but your use of the term "schizophrenics" was in poor taste. Schizophrenia is not a laughing matter, and if you knew someone or some family affected by this, I can promise you wouldn't have made the poor choice to use it as a part of a punch line. This is not about being PC, it's about being sensitive to mental illness, which for too long has been a prop for professional and amateur funny men. Let your conscience be your guide. You're an excellent writer, Jay, but falling back on this was intellectually lazy, imo. *** As a lifelong California resident (virtually), the events in California over the past couple of years, the legislative events, have brought me to the sad conclusion that our best days are behind us. If horseracing is to be saved in California, we need to bring in the Indian tribes, who have all the gaming rights (and all the power) for the next 200 years, something for which we can thank our esteemed Governor, The Damn Fool. I wonder if anyone has thought to try and make them partners in horseracing, since they have the resources to save this sport in California? They also have the power to block any attempt to add slots into the mix, political muscle that they flexed to prevent slots at BM, which they essentially shut down as a result.
Thomas_Kuzdal More than 1 year ago
Stewards, stewards? Let me think...I read at least one comment that alluded to the Allemeuse (sp?) scandal at Saratoga a few years ago. That was a mess and just another nail in this sports' coffin. Maybe the answer is to leave one (paid) steward in charge with two regular fans to learn, observe and assist the steward in the doling out of racetrack justice. It might help to alleviate some of the grousing that's heard from Joe Bettor, even when it seems justified. Unfortunately, whether it's Wall Street, the racetrack or a friendly game of dice at the Knights of Columbus, money's involved. Only the naive horseplayer will sense the utmost confidence that their horse will always run to the form they've seen in the PPs and that, when interference looks like an excuse, corrective action is guaranteed. I wouldn't want to see 10 prohibitive favorites, at every track, every day but, really, we all wonder about the magic some trainers perform with their charges. Can't do without some integrity up there, regardless of the fiscal constraints.
Octave-the-Rave More than 1 year ago
J. Ho, of course Jerardi was right 8 years ago, but neither he nor any commentor has noted what for me is the strongest argument of all for getting rid of stewards -- the inordinate delay they cause in the proceedings. Other sports have spent millions ferreting-out ways to speed-up their game without significantly affecting the outcome. Using that criteria, this discussion becomes a no-brainer: without Stewards, outcomes no longer are affected, AND the game speeds up dramatically. Duh! Circa Billy Mays: But wait, there's more! The extent to which overzealous stewards have robbed the sport of the excitement of "race riding" is almost criminal. Today's younger fans have no clue how exciting the game used to be when jocks like Arcaro, Baeza, Hartack and others routinely rode with a reckless passion that today, just as routinely, not only would get them taken down, but also suspended. But, alas, it'll never happen. Horse racing simply doesn't have the brain-power in positions of influence to move it out of the dark ages like other sports, including -- or perhaps, most notably -- in its racing journalists.
Bud Pettingill More than 1 year ago
STOP THE PRESSES! J-Ho? Rave's a nitwit. It's J-Dey!
Octave-the-Rave More than 1 year ago
Sorry, shooda done some homework first. It's J-Ho ... and I thought you might! Rave
Jay H More than 1 year ago
J. Ho? I think I like it.
Loraina More than 1 year ago
The stewards pay went from the state to the racetracks this year. Good for the stewards, who go work every day without pay in the past. Bad for the game when the tracks don't give a d... about integrity and fairness.
mike More than 1 year ago
I see Jerardi's point, horseracing is the only sport where decisions are made after the fact, well except for the replay rule in football. While he says why punish the bettors,which bettors does he speak of, the ones for the horse who was interfered with or the one doing the interfereing? What should be done in the case of interference at the break? What of a horse who comes out of the gate and in a couple of jumps effectively takes out the favorite and a few others, but goes on to win. Should we reward the bettors and the owner for taking out the competition? Suspend the jockey, but hell I had the nag at 15-1. Stewards need to be in place, someone needs to "police" the races. I've had some good scores negated by bad calls, I've had some good scores go in my favor on a bad call, part of the game. Their mistakes do not account for much considering the amount of judgements they make. If people are concerned make it an ex-jockeys job only, and only after an apprenticeship or exam or whatever. To think we'd be better off without them or that stewards are archaic is just a wee bit wrongheaded. To say the stewards are an archaic idea is to say horseracing is an archaic enterprise. I mean it's been around for thousands of years, Why does Mr. Jerardi think the stewards came about in the first place. They tried it without them, it became apparent they were needed, to suggest we as a civilization have come that far that they are not needed is looking through some pretty deep rose colored glasses. Mike
TurfRuler More than 1 year ago
What needs to be done before Hollywood Park is turned into a rubble pile and the state goes bankrupt is for the Governor to offer for sale or exchange the City of Inglewood to the Bay Area buyer/developer Wilson Meany Sullivan which will save jobs and satisfy his squandermania.