03/01/2015 10:34PM

Giwner: One strange disqualification

Derick Giwner
Handle was up last weekend at Yonkers Raceway, but an on-track DQ stole some of the spotlight.

Receiving calls or emails about judges’ decisions is commonplace in my line of work. Nine times out of ten I watch the race and it is plain to see the judges' point of view and I turn the page. But on Saturday night (2/28) when Kiwi Ideal N was disqualified and placed last, I was certainly left shaking my head.

The race unfolded with Duel In The Sun assuming the early lead over Rockin Wizard, who ever so briefly came off the cones to inspire the leader to go faster. Approaching the quarter Kiwi Ideal N was sent to the rim by driver Eric Goodell trying to brush to the front. In the midst of pacing a 29 3/5 second quarter (about normal for the second quarter at Yonkers), Goodell made the front off the far turn as driver Mark MacDonald took a hold of his horse to yield for the pocket.

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MacDonald’s horse was clearly under a tight hold and perhaps annoyed that he wasn’t on the lead, a position he held in three of his last four starts including last week when he paced a 1:53 3/5 victorious mile on the engine. Meanwhile, Rockin Wizard was clearly having no part of sitting the three-hole despite driver Brian Sears doing everything he could to keep him along the cones. Finally at the last minute Sears pulled just after the horse behind him had begun the outer flow.

Ultimately Kiwi Ideal N was disqualified for slowing down the pace and causing confusion to trailing horses, including Sears and those that were forced wide when he pulled. Kiwi Ideal N was taken down despite pacing the same or faster in the second quarter as four other horses on the card, none of which were dq’d.

It was a tough pill to swallow, even for someone like me who didn’t have a wager on the race. The problem is that the race looked just like 50% of the races contested at Yonkers with one small exception, horses at the back of the pack were impeded. Who was at fault? That is the 64,000 question.

I’d accept the argument that perhaps Goodell could have gone faster once getting the lead, but he certainly made no obvious moves to slow the pace dramatically. The first half of the second quarter seemed to be contested at a similar speed as the second half by the naked eye. I could also see someone blaming MacDonald for taking a hold of his horse and allowing Goodell to make the front easily. Maybe it was Sears’ fault for not brushing to the lead prior to the quarter or pulling well before the incident took place. As one driver told me, "There was a lot of blame to go around."

Trainer Darran Cassar was livid when reached by phone. “I’m going to appeal it,” he said. “I know I probably won’t win, but it is a matter of principle.”

There are two rules in New York (that I found) regarding this type of infraction:

4117.4 section (e) Taking back quickly in front of a horse or a field of horses so as to cause confusion or interference among the trailing horses.

(m) Causing any horse or a field of horses to excessively slow down.

Did we really witness either of the above infractions? And if we did, could you say for sure who was at fault?

The entire incident takes me back to the head-scratching disqualification of Odds On Equuleus in 2012 at the Red Mile. Driver John Campbell was disqualified for a very similar “infraction”. But that was a stakes race and received much more attention.

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Who are the judges trying to protect in cases like the above? The betting public? The horse that was placed first wasn’t even interfered with from my viewpoint. I see the point that there was interference and someone is at fault, but this was hardly a cut and dry case. For me this was a case where maybe a few drivers should have been fined and the result left alone. You send a message, yet at the same time you don’t penalize those who wagered on the clear best horse.

I’ve said it once, but clearly it needs to be said again, you can’t DQ a horse unless the evidence of wrongdoing is unquestionable!

Feel free to watch the replay here and judge for yourself. Click on February 28, race 10: http://yonkersraceway.com/livevideo/

In better news . . .

Handle at Yonkers Raceway was way up during the weekend. The track handled $818,202 on Friday and $833,427 on Saturday. According to sources at the track, the results may have been due to avoiding off-time conflicts with other tracks. If so, whether intentional or not, keep it up. It works!

Finally . . .

I just want to thank everyone at Harness Horsemen International for honoring me with the Clyde Hirt Media Award. When I look at the list of directors and see mostly people I don’t deal with on a daily basis, the award means even more. To receive an award named after a Hall of Famer and following in the footsteps of previous award recipients like Hall of Famer Sam McKee and this year’s USHWAN of the Year Gordon Waterstone shows that I must be doing something right.