09/17/2015 2:06PM

Hovdey: Beckett's name up in (blinking) lights


Let this be stipulated up front: Ralph Beckett has had a character-building season, whether his character needed any building or not.

On Aug. 16, the British trainer stood helplessly by as his filly, Secret Gesture, was disqualified from victory in the $700,000 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park. Then, last Saturday, it was déjà vu all over again as the Beckett stable filly Simple Verse was disqualified after beating a field of colts in the $610,000 St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster.

As a result, Beckett is spending more time than he likes in appeals hearings over both disqualifications. He was in Chicago this week before a Director’s Review Conference – sort of a one-man star chamber – and he will be in London next week when the British Horseracing Authority hears the St. Leger appeal. Sheikh Fahad al Thani, whose Qatar Racing has a stake in both disqualified fillies, probably has lawyers on retainer for this sort of thing.

Beckett and company should know – and this is no consolation – that they are in good company when it comes to being disqualified from sweet victory in a major stakes event. Ever since Equipoise was disqualified for interference after winning the 1930 Youthful Stakes by four lengths at Old Jamaica, it has been pretty clear that no horse is immune to the red flag.

Secretariat was disqualified, Affirmed was disqualified, Dr. Fager was disqualified, Cougar II was disqualified, Hoist the Flag was disqualified, Fort Marcy was disqualified, Key to the Mint was disqualified, Nodouble was disqualified, Sky Beauty was disqualified – and those were animals who hardly needed to cheat to win.

Miche was disqualified after winning the 1951 Vosburgh, then a few months later, he was moved up to first on the disqualification of Intent in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Calumet’s Miz Clementine was disqualified after beating Derby winner Determine in the 1955 Santa Anita Maturity. Calumet’s owner, Lucille Markey, did not lodge a protest. She simply refused to race in California ever again.

Gamely should have been disqualified after beating Princessnesian by a nose in the 1968 Santa Margarita Handicap but was not because, the stewards ruled, the two were owned and trained by the same interests and coupled in the betting. Five months later, Gamely was disqualified after winning the Diana at Saratoga. What goes around …

Protests over the disqualification of Chief’s Crown in the 1985 Flamingo Stakes, of Tight Spot in the 1990 Del Mar Derby, and of The Wicked North in the 1993 Santa Anita Handicap dragged on and on, but none of them took up as much time as the successful appeal and then unsuccessful counter-appeal over the disqualification of Marsh Side from his first-place finish in the 2009 Northern Dancer Stakes at Woodbine. It was May 2011 when Marsh Side was once and for all declared the winner.

Jamie Spencer, who rode Secret Gesture in the Beverly D. for Beckett, also was disqualified from victory aboard Powerscourt in the 2004 Arlington Million, giving him a rare and unwanted place in local history. But the Million has the distinction of more winner DQs in a shorter period of time than any other major American horse race.

Storming Home was disqualified after passing the post first in 2003 because he did it while swerving madly to the right and dislodging Gary Stevens in the process. Stevens ended up with a collapsed lung and various other dents, adding injury to insult.

In 2013, The Apache and Christophe Soumillon were taken down after beating Real Solution by a head. Winning/losing trainer Mike de Kock took his medicine and did not file a protest, telling Daily Racing Form, “It’s not an easy thing to swallow, but you have to.”

Sometimes you have no choice. While the hand-wringing over inconsistent medication rules and testing standards among the 38 racing states occupies most of the conversation, let it be known that there are places you can appeal a stewards’ ruling of interference – like Illinois, Louisiana, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and West Virginia – and places you cannot.

According to a survey of the American Racing Commissioners International, the jurisdictions where the disqualified party has to swallow the result without option of appeal include Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Washington, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and California, where appeals once were allowed.

The successful appeal of the Tight Spot ruling exposed the local board of stewards as unable to justify their disqualification after the fact. This would seem to be a problem of personnel, not rules and regulations. The appeal of The Wicked North’s DQ failed after the plaintiff’s attempt to introduce running angles and analysis not available to the stewards at the time of their ruling. This would seem to be an issue of technology, not rules and regs.

In a perfect world, every stewards’ disqualification should be crystal clear and eminently defensible, both to the public in the immediate wake of the race and to any appeals process available. That’s impossible given the human component, but stewards’ oversight is still worth the trouble lest Eddie Arcaro’s warning that jockeys would be “killing each other out there” comes true.

So, appeal away where you can, owners, trainers, and jockeys, and good luck to you all. Just remember that if you are successful, the one group who does not go along for the happy ride are the horseplayers who were taken down with you in the first place.