10/01/2012 1:21PM

Bergman: Judges got it wrong with Odds On Equuleus disqualification

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Nigel Soult
Odds On Equuleus and driver John Campbell were disqualified from this win in a division of the Bluegrass.

It’s hard to believe two of the worst calls in professional sports could occur in the same week!

Sadly one call came in front of a national audience and the other happened in near obscurity at Lexington’s famed Red Mile.

The NFL officials were applauded as they returned to action this week, but there will be no replacing the judges who robbed the Standardbred sport on Saturday night.

The decision to disqualify Odds On Equuleus, the winner of the fourth race, an $85,800 division of the Bluegrass, was the worst decision I have seen in the 40 years I’ve been following the sport.

Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, refused to reverse last Monday’s call that cost the Green Bay Packers a well-earned victory.

The Kentucky Racing Commission is going to have to review the disqualification of Odds On Equuleus. His connections confirmed on Sunday that they plan to appeal the horrible call.

Here’s hoping that the Kentucky Racing Commission not only reverses this horrendous call, but puts an end to a rule that simply makes no sense, primarily because it’s impossible to explain to novice or expert alike.

According to The Red Mile’s presiding judge Rich Williams, Odds On Equuleus and his driver John Campbell, were guilty (all three judges agreed) of “causing confusion to trailing horses by slowing the pace abruptly.”

Williams was quick to point out that this rule is not the “slow quarter” rule. Instead it is one that suggests that the leader of a race can cause harm to trailing horses simply by slowing down the pace.

The inquiry sign went up fairly quickly after Odds On Equuleus crossed the wire first in the fourth race, but it took more than eight minutes before the judges began to flash the red light next to the winner’s number. The connections of this year’s Metro Pace runner-up were already in the winner’s circle posing for a picture when Campbell was summoned to leave the scene.

“We don’t have a phone set up in the winner’s circle,” said Williams about the delay in speaking to the winning driver.

The incident in question happened shortly after Campbell and his charge had paced a sub-:27 second quarter to clear Rockin Amadeus for the lead at the half. At that point driver Brian Sears, behind Real Rocker, appeared to be coming out of the three hole. He moved briefly and then was yanked back as he appeared to make contact with Yannick Gingras and the pocket-sitting Rockin Amadeus. When Sears returned to the three-hole it caused confusion to trailing horses and both Teresa’s Beach and Visa Viper took up and were interfered with.

Yet the judges somehow didn’t see Sears at fault. Instead they blamed Campbell for what essentially is the equivalent of braking and causing a seven-horse pileup.

But how can there be a seven-horse pileup when the horse sitting second, Rockin Amadeus, remained extremely calm with his driver only reacting when Sears got up on his back? Rockin Amadeus never threatened to run up the back of the horse that allegedly caused the problem.

Williams claimed that he spoke with Gingras and other drivers following the race. What Gingras told him should have forced the judges to look more at Sears, but it did not.

“Gingras told me that his horse is easy to control,” Williams said.

So in other words, the pocket-sitting horse remained extremely composed even though a train wreck was going on behind him.

A closer look at the chart of the race, which was posted for all to see at ustrotting.com, showed that the judges failed to give an “i” to either Rockin Amadeus or Real Rocker. They did note that both Teresa’s Beach and Visa Viper were interfered with, as the symbol “ix” before the three-quarter-mile call would indicate.

When informed about the chart, Williams was quick with a comeback.

“We’ll have to change the chart,” Williams said.

Which brings up a more realistic question.

Why?

It would seem from the chart that the judges didn’t in fact believe that the horses sitting directly behind Odds On Equuleus were bothered, leading anyone with a sound mind to conclude that Sears in fact caused the problem and not Campbell.

Williams wouldn’t reveal all of the conversations he had with the drivers, but the basic fact that he spoke with the drivers makes no sense, given the nature of the alleged foul and the vested interest each driver has in the change of the outcome.

“I don’t understand why they can’t make a call on their own,” said Robin Schadt, Odds On Equuelus’s trainer, in disbelief.

Why would Brian Sears blame himself for losing control of his horse and edging to the outside? Was Sears actually contemplating a first-over move trying to edge out ahead of Johny Rock? Or was Sears negligent in being unable to control a “hard to handle” animal?

How about John Campbell? Hasn’t the veteran Hall of Fame driver been through enough races and too many painful accidents to do anything as foolish as sitting down on a field of horses moving at an accelerated pace?

I'm not sure whether Ron Pierce, the driver of one of the horses allegedly impacted by Campbell’s action, was asked for his input. If he were it would be another outrage considering the many scrapes he and Campbell have had over the years.

Odds On Equuleus was a 1-5 favorite in the field. His disqualification left many people at the Red Mile shaking their heads.

“This older woman came over to me and told me she was a fan of my horse,” said Schadt. “She told me that she didn’t understand what he did wrong.”

Dana Parham, owner and breeder of Odds On Equuleus, was thinking more about the big picture for a sport he loves and knows is in serious trouble.

“I’m disappointed. I think our sport is in a lot of trouble. I can’t believe the confusion they (the judges) caused. I don’t think it’s our finest hour,” Parham said.

Parham drew a parallel between the judges’ actions and perhaps how the police would handle speeding.

“It’s like the cops sitting on the side of the road and stopping everyone for going 55.1 in a 55 m.p.h. zone,” said Parham, who fears the racing commission may hunker down like our political parties and refuse to see that the other side has a credible and valid point.

That’s what makes the rule and the decision so puzzling. No matter how many drivers were spoken with it is virtually impossible for the first-time bettor or the professional gambler to discern this sudden change in pace visually. The individual fractions (a :28 4/5 third quarter) suggest a normal pace. Williams claimed he and his associates went over the films from various angles repeatedly before reaching a “unanimous” conclusion. The presiding judge appeared to act as if his revelation that “all three” agreed was somehow more compelling.

It is not.

Give John Campbell a world of credit. He acted as professionally as a human could respond to the adverse situation. He rebounded by winning four more races on the stakes-filled card.

The bettors who had to shed winning tickets on a 1-5 shot that scored decisively in 1:51 2/5 and may prove to be the best freshman pacer in training will never recover their losses. That’s the same as those unlucky to have backed the Green Bay Packers a week ago Monday.

There can be some justice only if the Kentucky Racing Commission has the courage to recognize that the visual facts in no way support the judges’ actions. They got the wrong man.

With apologies to the late Hank Stram, “I can’t believe all three of you missed the call.”