07/18/2001 12:00AM

It's time to let race results stand


PHILADELPHIA - It has been several weeks since the Hollywood Gold Cup and the furor over Futural's disqualification remains. Without getting into whether it was a good decision or not, I have a solution.

It is the same solution I had 20 years ago. It is the same solution I will have 20 years from now. First horse to the wire wins. End of discussion.

Two weeks ago, Steven Crist wrote in Daily Racing Form that handicap races should be eliminated. They were, he wrote, an anachronism, no longer relevant. He was, of course, correct.

Stewards, as we know them, are also an anachronism, completely irrelevant.

No doubt, there are many wonderful people in their booths high above America's grandstands. Many of them are probably very good at their jobs. Most of them probably try to do the right thing.

But what purpose do they serve, exactly? If you say there has to be some law and order on the racetrack, I would agree. Somebody has to be in charge.

But this story isn't about fines for smoking under the shedrow. This is about DQ's.

If, after stewards look at tapes of a race, they want to suspend a jockey for a riding infraction, that's fine. If a jockey does not get the message after a few suspensions, suspend him for a long period of time. If some rider is so obviously risking injuries to others in attempts to win, suspend him for years.

But why penalize the owners, trainers, and bettors?

If there were some standards that universally apply, one might be able to defend the current system. But there are no standards. Thus, there is no defense for it.

Nobody can define what constitutes a disqualification. There are simply no guidelines. The "rules of racing'' apparently were written about the time of the Civil War and never updated. They have zero relevance.

So stewards have taken it upon themselves to decide how this is supposed to work. If, in their wisdom, they think a "foul'' cost a horse a placing, there is a disqualification. Is there a rule anywhere that states that is how they are supposed to do this?

Here is the basic problem. Only in horse racing can the outcome of a contest be changed after the contest is over.

I once testified at an appeal hearing after a particularly egregious DQ at Philadelphia Park. I met the DQ'd horse's owners at a party and told them it was horrible call. They said they were appealing to the racing commission. I said I would testify. They took me up on my offer.

After trying to get me DQ'd as having no expertise in the matter (who does have expertise?), the commission's attorney asked me a few perfunctory questions before saying "wouldn't you agree that a steward is no different than an umpire or referee at a baseball or football game?"

I told him I would not agree at all. Those people make calls during games. It's possible that one call could affect the outcome, but it does not happen that often.

Stewards make their calls after the race has already been decided. Once a sporting event is over, refs and umps leave the field.

The attorney had a disbelieving look on his face and quickly said, "No further questions.''

Most people will not believe this, but there was a time not so long ago when replays of stewards' decisions were never shown. It was only after a few of us began to protest that the process began to become somewhat public.

Still, nobody really knows why decisions are made. Nobody can say what is right or what is wrong because nobody really knows.

In the end, you are left with the aftermath of the Hollywood Gold Cup. There are way too many questions and far too few answers.