08/29/2013 12:38PM

History answers: Racing's most bizarre episodes

Email

See the questions HERE.

1. When the horses crossed the finish line in the 50th running of the Kentucky Derby in 1924, everyone at the wire could easily tell that Black Gold was a half-length in front.

But behind Black Gold were four horses almost in a straight line. The placing judges saw only three of the horses. And one of the three they thought they saw was actually a horse far back in the pack.

The finish that still appears on the official Daily Racing Form chart shows Black Gold first, Chilwohee second, and Beau Butler third.

The chartcaller had gotten it right but was forced to change to conform to the official posted finish.

A newsreel shown at Louisville’s Alamo Theater the following day clearly shows that Beau Butler, the official third horse, had finished anywhere from seventh to 12th in the 19-horse field.

Photos in newspapers and magazines, depending on the angle from which they were taken, indicated that the next two after Black Gold were Chilwohee and Bracadale (who was officially placed fifth). Which of the two was second was too close to call.

The judges admitted their errors, citing the similar colors of two silks as one explanation. But no change was ever made to the official finish.

2. Charles H. Pettinger did everything he could to get the field on its way in the 1893 American Derby, including smacking jockeys with a large buggy whip and fining four of them $250 each on the spot. At least 1,000 fans gathered at the rail to scream and curse at Pettinger during the 90-minute fiasco.

Twenty-six years later, the most prominent starter of the time, Mars Cassidy, allegedly was hung over from a birthday party and called in sick on Aug. 13, 1919, at Saratoga. With no backup, officials turned to patrol judge Charles Pettinger, now in the twilight of his career, to start the races.

The fourth race that day was the 10th running of the Sanford Memorial Stakes, the only race in which Horse of the Century Man o’ War was ever beaten.

The official chart said, “Start slow and poor.” Some who saw the start said Man o’ War was sideways. Reporting in Daily Racing Form, Edward Cole wrote, “From the moment Pettinger raised the barrier . . . Man o’ War was all tangled up.”

3. Chief’s Crown, champion 2-year-old male the prior year, won the 1985 running of the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah by one length over Proud Truth.

After a long inquiry, the stewards reversed the order of the first two finishers, saying that Chief’s Crown had drifted out in the stretch, impeding Proud Truth.

An appeal of the ruling was made to the state by the owners of Chief’s Crown. Ten days later, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, convened a panel of three retired stewards from New York and Kentucky.

All three testified that they felt the disqualification was unjustified. The state division agreed and ordered the original order of finish restored.

Chief’s Crown went on to be only the second horse in history to be favored in – and lose – all three legs of the Triple Crown. (Correlation in 1954 was the first.)

Later that year, Proud Truth won the second running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, defeating Chief’s Crown.

4. The parimutuel law passed in New York in 1939 and effective in 1940 set the commission (mutuel take) at 10 percent – half to the state and half to the racetracks.

Kent Hollingsworth, later editor of The Blood-Horse, wrote that the tracks “were so embarrassed by the new riches” that management asked the state to reduce the racetracks’ cut of the handle to 4 percent from 5. The state gladly agreed and made the 60-40 split official in 1943.

In 1947, Mayor William O’Dwyer decided the city of New York should have 5 percent as well, and the takeout jumped to 15 percent.

Fans screamed loudly at what became known as the “O’Dwyer Bite.” So, what did the state legislature do? It said the additional 5 percent should go to the state. The city and county of New York got 15 percent of admission fees as a consolation prize.

In seven years, the take on bets had increased 50 percent. And less than a decade later, the New York tracks were struggling to survive.

5. Always trying to be the first at something, Rockingham Park president Lou Smith came up with the idea in 1946 of using a helicopter with a motion picture camera mounted on it to hover 75 feet above the horses as they ran around the track.

It worked and the horses didn’t seem to mind the noise, but the fans gradually became annoyed as the day went on and many were convinced that the clatter bothered their horses. The experiment lasted one day.

Seven years later, Smith heavily invested in his grand idea of operating a lavish racetrack in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of America.

The track made its debut in September 1953 with 8,500 fans on hand opening day, including movie stars and famous jockeys. A plethora of technical problems plagued the track and crowds quickly dwindled – gamblers choosing to return to air-conditioned casinos. The Las Vegas Jockey Club was bankrupt a month later.


Photo from questions page: Black Gold.