09/18/2017 3:33PM

Bergman: Head-scratching interpretation of the rules by Yonkers Judges

Email
Betabcool N was way inside the pylons coming off the second turn in the 8th race on September 8 at Yonkers Raceway.

Just when I thought I had seen everything that could happen in a horse race I was surprised on Friday (September 8) at Yonkers Raceway.

The aspects of the eighth race, the $50,000 featured Open for fillies and mares, was such that I was stunned for more than the 10 minutes that followed its completion.

Yes, there was an inquiry posted, but strangely there was no blinking light on one of the numbers.

In short, when the pacemaker hit the second turn a retaking of the lead turned into the two front-runners hooking wheels. This set off a chain reaction as we’ve seen thousands of times before. Drivers directly behind the incident quickly snatched up their horses and attempted to avoid the top two while managing not to collide with each other.

It was picture perfect reaction from drivers with incredible skills to change course in a second and avoid contact while managing to keep their horses upright.

Yet as the field made its way through the second turn, one of the horses, Betabcool N, a longshot that had trailed from the start, was not slowing down or veering to the right. Instead his driver Greg Merton elected to steer to the left, cutting inside the pylons and easily avoiding the top horses. Merton’s efforts were so successful that while other horses lost ground he managed to help Betabcool N go from last to first without working very hard (or traveling the correct distance) to do so.

Having witnessed countless horses taken down for going inside two pylons in races that did not involve such incidents and gaining a minor edge, it appeared as if this one was an easy call for the judges in attendance at Yonkers Raceway led by presiding judge Nick Ferriero.

That did not prove to be the case as Ferriero and company lit the “Inquiry” sign for all to see (without indicating a specific horse) but then spent a long period of time before finally making the race official and leaving Betabcool N in second place where she had crossed the wire.

Needless to say there were many unhappy bettors along the way confounded by a rule that has claimed them in the past but somehow managed not to protect them on this occasion.

In an era of transparency I expected Ferriero to speak of his decision when contacted this past Saturday, but the judge did his best to keep me in the dark as he had other bettors on the previous night. Ferriero suggested I look towards New York State rule 4117.2 part C for more answers to questions he refused to accept or answer over the phone.

From the rule Ferriero specified, there appears to be only one sentence that would apply to last Friday’s incident, it follows:

“If, in the opinion of the judges, a horse or sulky is forced off the course as a result of the actions of another horse or driver, or as a result of a break from such horse’s gait, the judges may determine the appropriate order of finish.”

In this sentence there is essentially one word that matters and one word we suggest the judges must have been unclear of its actual meaning.

FORCED.

I attempted to get a comment from the New York State Gaming Commission as well but they have not responded to my inquiry.

My lone question to Ferriero and the Commission was asking either to define how it was possible for five drivers within closer proximity to the incident to slow their horses down and stay on the course, while the horse trailing, with the most time to react to the incident, made no attempt to slow down and in fact left the course of his own choosing.

The term “forced” in the language of the rule is critical to all decisions to leave up or disqualify horses and it’s clear its intent is not to force a driver into an impending collision when circumstances are such that the only avenue to avoid one is going inside the pylons.

Greg Merton behind Betabcool N was not forced into any such situation. He had ample time and space to do a few other things before getting too physically close and causing an accident. Merton certainly could have slowed his horse down. Merton certainly could have steered his horse away from the pylons (this could only have happened if he slowed down).

Thankfully Merton and the other five drivers were able to avoid what could have been a catastrophic pile-up. We are all grateful for that conclusion.

At the same time, it’s impossible to conclude that Betabcool N was forced off the track in any manner. Forced means not being able to choose. In this specific race, five drivers in close proximity to the incident understood that leaving the racecourse, while it may have been available to them as it was to Merton, was not the correct course of action within a horse race. The five understood that leaving the course may provide the best moment of instant safety but it was a sure way to disqualify their horse. If all five were not forced off the track just how is it possible the sixth was?

That of course was the question we had hoped the Judge and the State’s gaming commission would answer.

In the end the decision robbed both bettors and owners. Betabcool N’s owners received $12,500 for traveling less than a mile and breaking the rules. Four of the five drivers that did the correct thing while also avoiding a nasty accident saw their connections each lose a percentage of those funds. Bettors that had an exacta or triple with the horses that crossed the wire first, third and fourth, were deprived the correct exacta and triple proceeds.

As bad as this Judges decision was, it opens a huge door to future incidents where drivers, like the five that steered wide, will choose to go inside the pylons instead.

That is unless a Gaming Commission corrects this wrong and affirms a rule that was most definitely not followed by its judges.