03/10/2010 12:00AM

Gray areas sometimes leave stewards in the dark


PHILADELPHIA - The call came in from the Borgata late Friday afternoon. It was the caller's birthday. He was going to be gambling. And he wanted to stop by the race book between visits to the craps table, slot machines, and roulette wheel.

Well, there is gambling, and there is racetrack gambling where you can lose even when your horses finish in the correct order. It would turn out to be quite an education for the birthday boy.

Not knowing what would transpire, I printed out the lines from Penn National and Charles Town. After minutes of going through each race, I came up with a few plays at Chucktown.

The fourth race at Charles Town was an $8,000 claimer for horses that had never won two races. In other words, one of those races where half the field can't win and some of the others don't want to win.

Two of Hearts jumped off the page. The 4-year-old filly dominated in the Beyer Speed Figures and was trained by Rodney Jenkins who was winning with 38 percent of his starters at the meet. The filly was so well-hidden that she was 1-5. But they offered trifectas, and this did not seem that complicated.

I texted a 7 with 1-2-3-8 trifecta. It would cost $12 for each $1 bet. The Borgata player had some cash in his pocket and bet it for something more than $1.

Two of Hearts dominated the race. Two of the four under horses, Saigon Tiger (22-1) and Kriseyes (20-1), were clearly second and third. The $2 trifecta paid $82.60. An easy game, indeed.

The looked a lot like the fourth. It was for horses that had never won three races. Some confirmed losers. A few no-hopers.

Like Two of Hearts, The Last Dancer jumped off the page. The filly had missed the break in her previous start, but had shown in her other starts that she was fast enough to clear a group like this. She had won an open claiming race at Laurel and was now dropping into a much easier spot.

She was also well-hidden. She was 4-5.

The trifecta again did not look complex. I texted 10 with 1-4-8-9, the same $12 play that obviously could be increased a little or a lot.

The Last Dancer beat the gate, clearing the horses inside of her almost instantly. Breaking from the far outside, she crossed over in front of the field, got a little bit of heat from the rail horse, Gold Forest, and then drew clear and won the 4 1/2-furlong race by 4 1/4 lengths, a rout in a race so short.

I was watching on my laptop and began to root for the trifecta by the time the field hit the far turn. No. 1 Gold Forest (9-1) was clearly going to be second or third. Here came No. 9 P K's Girl (15-1) on the outside. It was going to be close for second. P K's Girl ended up getting there by a nose.

So, 4-5 over 15-1 over 9-1. Just like the fourth race, this was an eight-horse field. The exacta in the fourth paid $15.80. The exacta in this race was going to pay $31, so I thought there was chance the trifecta could pay as much as $150.

Before I could do the rest of the math, as in $150 times the unit, the board lit up saying the jockey on unplaced Wild Testimony had placed a "hold" on the race. Wasn't sure what that meant. When it was then announced the rider was objecting against P K's Girl for interference out of the gate, I got a bit concerned.

Then, it was announced that the jockey of P K's Girl was claiming foul against the winner, also for interference at the start.

After a few minutes, the stewards' view of the "incident" came on the screen. First, it was the head on, played over and over. From the outside post, The Last Dancer had broken to the right, so there clearly was no interference out of the gate.

The filly then did cross over to get closer the rail. Any jockey would have done the same thing. Knowing from the live pan shot that the horse had broken so well, I wasn't too concerned about the objection. The Last Dancer had cleared quickly.

The stewards took a quick look at the pan shot and that was it. I was waiting for the official.

Twelve minutes after the horses hit the finish line, The Last Dancer was disqualified and placed fifth, behind Wild Testimony.

Everybody knows I think stewards should be eliminated. This was just another example of why. The best horse had won easily and was disqualified.

There clearly were issues behind The Last Dancer on the backstretch. P K's Girl had drifted to the inside and into Wild Testimony who had stumbled out of the gate. From what I saw, The Last Dancer had little to do with it.

The chart caller apparently disagreed, writing that The Last Dancer "angled down sharply causing a chain reaction of bumping." I agree the horse angled over, but why is that an issue when the horse is clear. It sure looked like the horse was clear.

And there is no way anybody could say for sure that the horse was not clear. The only part of The Last Dancer even in the vicinity of P K's Girl was her tail. And that wasn't all that close. The reaction of the rider on P K's Girl caused the bumping. Was that the fault of the horse that was in front? I could not make that leap into the unknowable.

The Charles Town stewards, however, could and did, which makes them not unlike many of their counterparts around the country. Too many leaps.

This scenario was like many I have seen through the years. It took way too long, so long that it was clear the deciders were not sure. If not sure, the rule should be simple - no change. The players had to be confused by the decision. And nobody can explain the decision anyway, because there really are no guidelines.

When I tried to explain all this to the birthday boy, I could hear his confusion through the phone. And yet another "racing fan" left the race book with the rest of his money to bet it in on black.