02/26/2014 3:48PM

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

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.”