02/27/2003 12:00AM

Controversy often spelled DQ


With the advent of the film patrol at racetracks in the 1940's, stewards no longer had to rely only on their memory of a race to decide if interference had taken place. Their job got easier. Or did it?

The instant replay of pan and head-on shots available to officials and fans today often result in widespread disagreement with decisions made by the stewards. The Santa Anita Handicap, to be run Saturday for the 66th time, has had its share of controversy over the years.

In the 1952 Big Cap, Intent became the first winner ever disqualified in a race worth $100,000 - then the top purse in America. Miche was moved from second to first. In 1982, John Henry became the first, and to this day only, two-time winner of the Big Cap when Perrault was disqualified and placed second.

Stuka, who was not involved in any interference, was moved up to first from second in the 1994 Santa Anita Handicap. Despite winning the race easily, The Wicked North was disqualified and placed fourth.

Test your knowledge of other famous times when the inquiry sign was on the board.

1. Perhaps the decision with the most far-reaching impact by the stewards in the Santa Anita Handicap involved a horse whose number was not taken down.

In the 38th Big Cap, on March 9, 1975, Stardust Mel won by a scant nose after a furious stretch drive with Out of the East. The official chart noted that the winner "drifted out to bump" the second horse. Most observers felt that, given the tight finish, Out of the East should have been moved up. The stewards let the original finish stand.

A controversy resulted and change occurred. What happened?

2. Eclipse Awards were first presented on Jan. 26, 1972, honoring the champions of 1971. By the summer of 1971, trainer Charlie Whittingham was nervous that his star, Ack Ack, would not get the recognition he deserved because he did not race outside of Southern California and did not compete after July 17.

As in earlier years when multiple polls were taken, Eclipse voters were still predominantly from the East, and most championships were won in the fall. A horse who was disqualified in October allowed Whittingham to breathe a little easier.

Name the horse and the race.

3. Despite a field of only four horses in the 1967 running of the $100,000-added Jersey Derby, a traffic jam occurred as the horses rounded the clubhouse turn. A 3-10 favorite and future Hall of Fame member went on to take a commanding lead and waltzed to the wire, more than six lengths in front. The crowd was stunned when the stewards took only a few minutes to place the winner last.

Name the horse.

4. After rattling off five consecutive victories, including the Sanford, Hopeful, and Futurity, this chestnut colt looked like a lock in the one-mile, $146,000 Champagne Stakes. Trailing by nearly nine lengths in the early going, he rallied strongly to win going away by two lengths. Unfortunately, when changing leads at the three-sixteenths pole, he bumped Stop the Music, who finished second. The stewards reviewed the tapes and moved Stop the Music up to first.

Name the chestnut horse.

5. For nearly half a century, the Flamingo Stakes was Florida's crown jewel for 3-year-olds. Over the years, the race saw an unusually high number of disqualifications.

Jewel's Reward was dropped from first to second in 1958, Sunrise County won but was placed third in 1962, and Iron Ruler was moved from first to second in 1968.

It appeared as if another DQ would be on the Flamingo record in 1985. In a controversial decision, the stewards moved the winner from first to second. The second-place finisher paid off to win bettors, but in the end, the original winner got top prize money

What happened?

HISTORY answers

1. Stardust Mel, winner of the 1975 Santa Anita Handicap, was owned by Marjorie L. Everett, who earlier had assumed control of Hollywood Park after a lengthy legal battle. In California at that time, stewards were still hired by the racetracks. Just a few weeks after the Big Cap, Hollywood Park would open, and these same stewards would be subject to hiring or firing by the mercurial and often hot-tempered Everett.

Many - including the owners of the runner-up, Out of the East - thought the decision not to take down Stardust Mel's number was influenced at least in part by the stewards' desire to protect their jobs. As a result of the controversy, the California Horse Racing Board conducted months of studies and hearings that eventually led to a change in state law. The new law called for stewards to be employees of the state racing board.

2. On March 13, 1971, trainer Charlie Whittingham sent out his two aces - Ack Ack and import Cougar II - in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Ack Ack, carrying 130 pounds, five pounds more than Cougar II, beat his stablemate by 1 1/2 lengths. It was the only time they faced each other.

On Oct. 2 that year, Cougar II traveled to Belmont Park for the rich Woodward Stakes. Sent off at 4-1, the Chilean-bred inhaled the field on the far turn, going off to win by five lengths. His time was just two-fifths off the track record for 1 1/4 miles. Unfortunately, in making his furious move on the final turn, Cougar II bumped another horse and was placed third for interference.

This race by Whittingham's number two star so impressed Easterners that they knew Ack Ack must be special. Ack Ack won three Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year. Cougar II, the most popular horse in California since Native Diver, won his own Eclipse Award the following year, as champion grass horse of 1972.

3. Few people at Garden State Park on Memorial Day 1967 thought the crowding in the Jersey Derby had anything to do with the outcome. Dr. Fager, the future champion from Tartan Stable, won in hand. But he squeezed the field to the rail on the first turn and was placed fourth and last for interference. In Reality was declared the winner.

It was the last time Manuel Ycaza rode Dr. Fager. A future Hall of Famer himself, Ycaza often spent as much time on suspensions for careless riding as he did riding.

Dr. Fager continued on the path to greatness. The following year he was voted champion older horse, grass horse, sprinter, and Horse of the Year. In 22 career starts, Dr. Fager finished first in all but three.

4. The Belmont Park crowd of 31,494 knew Secretariat was much the best when his number was taken down in the 1972 Champagne Stakes. Nathaniel Hyland, one of the stewards, explained that stewards do not care who would have won or not, but whether an infraction took place.

Secretariat went on to easy victories in the Laurel Futurity and Garden State Stakes and was voted not only best 2-year-old male, but also Horse of the Year. By the end of his 3-year-old campaign, some seasoned horsemen and journalists were calling Secretariat the greatest horse of all time.

5. Chief's Crown, winner of the previous year's inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile, scored a wire-to-wire win in the 1985 Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah. But after a lengthy inquiry, the stewards took his number down and declared the runner-up, Proud Truth, the winner.

The owners of Chief's Crown were so incensed that they appealed to Robert Rosenberg, director of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

The division convened a special panel of three retired stewards who, after reviewing the tapes, unanimously recommended reversing the stewards' decision. Rosenberg agreed, and Chief's Crown was reinstated as the official winner.