11/02/2014 10:03AM

Beyer: Stewards made right call in Classic, Bayern a deserving champ

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If the Super Bowl is decided by a pass play with contact between receiver and defender or the NBA finals by a drive to the basket on which there is obvious contact, a referee’s borderline decision can determine the outcome of a championship event. Whatever the official decides is sure to prompt endless debate.  

This essentially is what happened in the America’s richest horse race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, after Bayern bumped two key rivals in his first stride out of the gate, then led all the way to win by a nose. Santa Anita’s stewards posted the “inquiry” sign. When they allowed Bayern’s victory to stand, the non-disqualification was met with plenty of boos at the track and second guessing in the blogosphere and the media.

“Bayern didn’t win the race,” declared veteran turf writer Bill Finley at ESPN.com. “The stewards won it for him. He should have been disqualified, absolutely 100 percent.”

This was not a 100 percent situation by any means, like most judgment calls in other sports.  But unlike officials in football or basketball who may be reluctant to make a game-changing call with a championship on the line, the stewards did what most stewards would do in an ordinary race. They forgave the infraction – and rightly so.  Bayern earned this victory and deserves to be hailed as a worthy Classic winner – as well as the 3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year.

When the gate opened, Bayern (No. 7) broke inward and banged #6 Shared Belief, the favorite. A chain reaction continued as Shared Belief bumped #4 Moreno. Although he was a 28-1 shot with little chance to win, Moreno’s misfortune would be crucial to the outcome of the Classic. The speedster had been expected to put pressure on the front-running Bayern in the early stages of the race. Because of Moreno’s early difficulties, Bayern was able to seize a clear lead – a significant tactical advantage.

Both Shared Belief and Moreno got a double whammy. The European colt Toast of New York had broken cleanly from post 9, but after a few strides, he angled toward the rail and created more traffic trouble for Shared Belief and Moreno.  The latter never got into contention and wound up finishing a distant last.

There was no DQ because stewards almost never disqualify a horse – in any race, big or small – for actions like Bayern’s.  Horses don’t run like trains on a track. In the first stride or two of almost every Thoroughbred race, there is inevitable jostling and bumping. Penalizing horses for one unavoidable bump in the first stride would create chaos in the sport.

Stewards may be stricter if a jockey doesn’t get his mount on a straight path after a few strides, but Martin Garcia got control of Bayern almost immediately.

“There was nothing I could do [about the initial contact],” the jockey said. “But I corrected it right away.” 

The California Horse Racing Board explained the non-disqualification by saying Shared Belief and Moreno “were not cost the opportunity to place where they were reasonably expected to finish.” Certainly the stewards wouldn’t disqualify a winner for bumping a longshot who wound up losing by more than 30 lengths. But what about Shared Belief? Asked about the trouble he encountered, jockey Mike Smith said, “I think it cost me the race.”

Shared Belief suffered less from the initial bump than he did from the congestion approaching the first turn – trouble that principally was caused by Toast of New York. Disqualifying Bayern would have made Toast of New York the winner – hardly a just result.  Moreover, it is debatable how much the trouble cost Shared Belief. Despite his early travails, he reached the first turn in just about the position where Smith would have wanted to be: sitting about four lengths behind the leaders in striking position on the outside.  He still had a chance – but he didn’t have his usual acceleration.

The controversial start diverted many fans’ attention from a dramatic and memorable stretch run.  Bayern was on the rail, pressured by Toast of New York, with California Chrome bearing down outside them – the scenario that everyone wanted to see. ‘Chrome’ had become America’s most celebrated racehorse by winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and NBC had for two days been promoting the Classic as “California Chrome’s shot at redemption.” Now, he had his chance.  Both of the pursuers had had clean trips and a fair shot to catch the frontrunner. But Bayern was resolute.  As Garcia recounted the stretch drive, he said he felt as if his mount were telling his rivals: “No, you’re never going to get by me.”

It was an ennobling performance for all three colts involved in the photo finish. Running 1 1/4 miles in a fast 1:59.88, they all earned Beyer Speed Figures of 113 – the three best performances by 3-year-olds on a dirt surface in 2014. Shared Belief had earned a 115 on Del Mar’s synthetic track.

California Chrome fully redeemed himself for his Triple Crown failure – even in defeat, this was the best performance of his career. Bayern, who blossomed late, confirmed the brilliant form he had displayed in the second half of the season. After he led all the way to win the Haskell Invitational by more than seven lengths and the Pennsylvania Derby by nearly six, questions still remained about his stamina, and he answered those questions in the Santa Anita stretch. His performance brought the year’s 3-year-old competition to an exciting and definitive climax, and the stewards were right to avoid marring it with a disqualification.

Audrey Harvey More than 1 year ago
And you get paid for this. I am not surprised.
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
Congratulations to the Baffert Stable! Great job of getting this speedster to stretch his talent to the Classic distance. We got to see him eyeballed and have a result. California Chrome loses nothing of his early season luster in defeat. California rocks!
Richard Kennedy More than 1 year ago
Good analysis of race. Looking forward to seeing these horses compete next year.
M More than 1 year ago
Baffert Anita Park = Pro Wrestling
Hail No More than 1 year ago
How about this incident, in the SA Derby. If you remember, Chrome broke a little out, then in, and "bulled" his way between the two horses on his left and right. The jocks gave him the room to go between them, upon review of the start, Jerry Bailey, said, "Well, the jocks opened the hole so CC could go through, but don't expect that in Derby or other Classic races, they'll pinch him right back and will NOT give him that hole to move through" Also, for people who have been watching the races for "years", please take out your dvds, and even vhs tapes, and watch the head on's on previous Derbys, and BCs, you'll see ALOT worse...
Elizabeth More than 1 year ago
Main Sequence should be Horse of the Year. He has four Grade I wins, met all the best comers from around the world and did so all summer and fall. Bayern maybe for champion three-year-old, but California Chrome's wins in 2/3 of the Triple Crown should trump the Haskell and BC Classic and PA Derby. But don't forget Shared Belief beat older horses twice and CC never won a race against his elders. Before giving it to Bayern, I would like to see another race from him--maybe the Clark Handicap to cement the deal, like Will Take Charge did last year.
Dennis Loo More than 1 year ago
I'm reposting my comment at Beyer's article as it appeared at the Wash Post: That Andy Beyer would state Moreno's 28-1 odds as the reason that Moreno had no chance to win is remarkably ill-informed for someone as experienced in horse racing as he is. Odds and chances to win are unrelated to each other. Odds are a product of the bettors' choices in the race, not an indication of a horse's actual chances of winning. If you read the PP's on the field, Moreno's speed figures and the surface and distances he's done them on (something that Beyer himself spearheaded the use of), it was clear that Moreno had a real chance to win, as good a chance as several others in the field. The bettors' preferences are a mix of the morning line, the winds of favoritism, sentiment, popularity of name horses/jockeys/trainers, pundits' opinions, rumors, and so on. That Beyer would conclude that the mugging by Bayern at the race's start had no significant effect on the race's outcome is as logical as saying that in a human race if someone is knocked to the side just as they are starting on an 880 race that this didn't effect their chances of winning. I was at the BC and saw these horses up close. The booing upon the stewards' decision was the loudest I've ever heard. Bayern's win should have been taken down. Martin Garcia didn't mean to mug the other horses that he did at the start, but that's what he did nonetheless.
Héctor Lebrón More than 1 year ago
Hey Andy, what about Main Sequence, isn't his 4 Gr 1 wins deserving of HOY status? I mean that's better than Wise Dan's!
Kirk More than 1 year ago
There have been many horses taken down at Santa Anita at the starting gate. Here is a 2012 ruling by the same 3 stewards... this is one of 50 I can pull up from the past years. Note that they do say it is rare, and for some reason in this case, they talked to several jockeys....not just Smith and Garcia. "Trainer NEIL FRENCH came to the office this morning to review the fourth race on Sunday, after which his horse was disqualified for interference leaving the gate. He disagreed with the decision for two reasons: (1) he thought that it was difficult to determine whether any horses were cost the opportunity at a better placing and (2) he felt that another horse shared some of the blame. He is correct that it is difficult to divine the eventual consequences of gate interference and therefore such disqualifications are rare—however, it was our opinion that the interference was very dramatic. As for contributory interference—the horse to which Mr. French was referring, only finished in front of one other rival."
Vonda Sue Van Slyke More than 1 year ago
Stop serving us the Kool-Aid, Andy! Are you trying to become the Harold Reynolds of thoroughbred horse racing?