02/26/2014 3:48PM

Jay Hovdey: Blum has seen stewards' calls both good and bad

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Barbara D. Livingston
Former jockey and retired steward Walter Blum is a proponent of full disclosure when it comes to stewards’ decisions.

It has been 50 years since Walter Blum won the second of his back-to-back championships for riding the most winners in North America. Fifty years since Blum teamed with Gun Bow to beat four-time Horse of the Year Kelso in three out of five confrontations, including their epic battle in the Woodward Stakes.

So naturally, when Blum was reached one morning this week after an early round of golf near his home in Tamarac, Fla., just west of Fort Lauderdale, he was asked the obvious question:

“What did you think of that dicey DQ in the last race of the Rainbow 6 sequence last Sunday at Gulfstream Park? Oh, and happy 50th on that title.”

Blum is usually the right guy to ask something like that, and not simply because he won 4,382 races over 22 years and entered the Hall of Fame in 1987. In terms of time served, Blum has spent a significantly larger share of his working life as a racing steward than he did in the trenches competing against such fellow Hall of Famers as Bill Shoemaker, Manny Ycaza, Bill Hartack, John Rotz, Bobby Ussery, and Milo Valenzuela.

“When I was riding I always viewed it with the intention that whenever the day came I stopped, I would want to be able to become an official,” Blum said. “When I was 41 the opportunity presented itself, which is why I retired as early as I did.”

Blum retired as Florida state steward in 2004, but as recently as last summer he was serving as a steward at Gulfstream Park during the mid-season stretch when the track was running two days a week. When the main meet opened in November, running five days a week, Blum went back to the golf course.

As for last Sunday’s DQ, which prevented the huge Rainbow 6 prize from being cashed, Blum demurred.

“I wasn’t at the track that day, so I didn’t see the race,” Blum said. “The footnote said the winner came out on two occasions and brushed the second horse and only beat him a head or a neck. So I imagine the stewards did the right thing.

“Each case has its own circumstances,” Blum added. “Sometimes a horse will brush with another horse and it won’t mean anything. There’s nothing like experience for a steward, and on top of that you’ve got the video replay you can run back and forth and in slow motion from all different angles. If you couldn’t make up your mind after that you shouldn’t be in the stewards’ stand.”

When it comes to stewards’ decisions, Blum is a proponent of full disclosure.

“The more information you can give the public the better,” he said. “You can’t go wrong doing that. If you take a number down show them why, and make sure it’s obvious in the replay.”

Blum knows how it feels to be on the losing end of a stewards’ decision, most dramatically in the 1966 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga when he rode favored Lady Pitt to a narrow victory over Natashka, ridden by Bill Shoemaker.

“When we turned for home he was ranging up outside of me, and I let my horse drift just enough to make him think about me,” Blum recalled. “I didn’t knock him sideways or anything, but it was obvious I came out a little too much. It was raceriding. Should they have taken my number down? Probably.”

You take your shot and if it doesn’t work, you take your lumps. There was one suspension, however, that Blum could not swallow.

It happened in 1967, when Blum was becoming a popular part of the California riding colony. On July 19, the Hollywood Park stewards dropped the bombshell that Blum would be suspended for the five remaining days of the meet plus 30 days for associating with what was generically described as “undesirable persons” who were “known touts and felons.”

Many in the racing community and sports media jumped to Blum’s defense. Art Grace, writing in the Miami News, reported that Blum had been shadowed for months before the ruling was issued and had never been warned by officials to cease any suspect associations. Neither was Blum’s performance on the track questioned, a point underlined in the stewards ruling.

“It was ridiculous,” Blum said. “The stewards acted inappropriately, and I had no recourse in the courts because in those days racing was considered a world to its own. I remembered what happened the rest of my life and never used my position to hurt someone intentionally.”

Two days after the suspension ended, Blum was at Del Mar to ride Baffle in the Del Mar Futurity.

“When we left the gate my horse broke out, Bill Mahorney’s horse broke in, and we touched,” Blum said. “I won and he finished second, and the stewards posted the inquiry. You can imagine how I felt, sweating my ass off watching those lights blink on the tote board, and with the same stewards in the stands who suspended me before, including the one I told to his face what I thought of him.

“Fortunately,” Blum added, “they saw it exactly as it happened and the result stood.”

Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Suspended for associating with criminals . I'm SHOCKED that jockeys associate with criminals ! Moved to the stewards stand . I'm SHOCKED. I'm shocked that a known associate of criminals would be hired as a steward ..... Not really.
Russ Jenkins More than 1 year ago
So if your horse gets absolutely mugged by another horse, you want the horse that did the mugging to stay up?
Richard More than 1 year ago
If your " mugged "horse is not placed where you bet on him - what's the difference ? Is revenge part of our handicapping litany ? Let the Stewards punish the Jockey, Trainer and Owner as they see fit but let the bettors parimutuel result stand as is. This game would be vastly improved in every way !
Jack Lee More than 1 year ago
He read the footnotes but didn't see the video. I got nothing from this piece.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Those were the days when a steward could suspend a jockey for associating with criminals. Lets face it there's only one reason why a jockey would hang out with a criminal and vise versa.to fix races and get an advantage in the betting. now those suspended jockeys are the stewards and their criminal friends run the show the good stewards are overruled by corporation and casino tracks that don't want to spend a dime on any investigation or courts .
Richard More than 1 year ago
It can all be solved if the rules are changed so that the results stand, the punishments are increased and the Stewards keep their roles and the effect of their decision making within the realm of the participants: Jockeys Trainers and Owners.
Richard More than 1 year ago
Change the rules: Let all parimutuel results stand but substantially increase penalties, including purse re-distribution and alteration of license status. The contests will be more consistently safe and there would be no inconsistent subjective rulings effecting the wagering outcomes; only the outcomes of the participants -Jockey, Trainer and Owner. The only thing the bettor should have to concern himself with is determining who gets to the wire first.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
ho that would work out well. lets see a crazed horse makes a right turn in the stretch and takes out half the field and hold on by a nose to one of the horses he mugged.and the result stands.great.
Richard More than 1 year ago
You are disregarding the fact that the "crazed horse" and his connections would get nothing from purse and the jockey can be penalized if he was complicit. Tell me how you or any Steward could determine who would have won that race anyway if you take down the winner in your hypothetical scenario. A ridiculous reason to discount my suggestion !
Matt D. More than 1 year ago
Ray, although it didn't involve half the field your hypothetical race reminded me of the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap. Just curious, do you think they got that call right? For those that have an interest the race is on YouTube.
G Monaghan More than 1 year ago
Brilliant! Unfortunately, way too brilliant for American horse racing.
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
ever seen the worst call ever by track stewards?? how abaout ALLEMEUSE,talk about 3 BLIND MICE,it happeneda long summer ago at the spa, the stewards took down the wrong horse!! worst call EVER. later some who bet on allemeuse sued nyra ,but the courts wouldnt make a descision and stated all descisions made my nyra were final, now that is a tough beat
C.Richard Waller More than 1 year ago
The race was Saturday not Sunday. Talk about the Stewards getting it wrong. However I believe they got it right. It's part of racing. Walter Blum was a part of racing as well . A big part. I remember watching him ride at Monmouth. When he was on a speed horse he used to make out like he was really getting into the horse to make him run, but he really wasn't. It just looked that way and when the other jocks came after him, thinking he had to be finished by now, Walter took off and held on to the wire. Great jock, Great steward.
Nick DAgostino More than 1 year ago
I was actually ecstatic that the DQ took place. Why? Because I had 50 win and 50 place on the 13, stupid thing is the only other horse that worried me in the race was Saez' horse. Hind sight 20/20 should of wheeled them with all for 3rd and 4th as the super paid over 400k!
GuyFleegman1 More than 1 year ago
Like everything else in our country...Horse Racing is being destroyed from within...congrats
Amy Fowler More than 1 year ago
You would think that Blum would watch a replay of the race and then make comments.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Why, to satisfy you? He's got better things to concern himself with that your irrelevant curiosity. The man's retired for crying out loud.
Robert Clayton More than 1 year ago
So he should give an opinion based on reading the charts?
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Do you really think he would contradict fellow stewards (at Gulfstream)? I doubt it.Even if it was another track.