02/25/2015 11:15AM

Jerardi: When in doubt, stewards should let the result stand


It now appears that my plan to eliminate stewards is not going to be adopted. It could all be so much simpler. First horse to the wire wins. No controversy.

One of the first stories I ever wrote was a freelance piece for the now-defunct Baltimore News-American about the Maryland stewards not long after the 1980 Codex-Genuine Risk Preakness controversy. It was an examination of their duties and how they arrived at decisions. I observed a lot, conducted a few interviews, and read the rules of racing. My memory is that I typed a lot of words and ended up with few answers.

Who were these people? How did they get appointed? What were their qualifications? What were the rules they followed to determine if the order of finish should be changed?

The story questioned everything about the stewards, not specifically the decision to leave Codex up in the Preakness. That was just the impetus for an idea that had been formulating ever since I started becoming a track regular a few years before.

I specifically remember a race where I stood to win a few thousand dollars when a horse at Pimlico ridden by a young apprentice named Kenny Black went wire to wire and was never near another horse at any time. An objection was made by the rider of the second-place finisher. The winner was taken down with no explanation.

This may be hard to believe, but back then, replays of races that involved objections, inquiries, or disqualifications were not shown. Stewards, aka “judges,” just were not questioned.

The winning jockey became Bill Passmore, aka “The Undertaker.” I wasn’t sure what had just happened or why, but I knew it was not right and determined that I would try to find out what went down. I never did, but I had a working theory.

By the way, the day it was announced at Laurel that Passmore would be retiring as a jockey, the entire place booed. He was made a steward.

As you can imagine, my 1980 story was quite controversial, as in “who is this kid to question the stewards?”

Well, here it is 35 years later, and I am still questioning the stewards, still wondering why my obvious solution to the problem continues to be ignored. If nobody really knows what decisions are based on, what we have is chaos.

Which brings us to the Fountain of Youth and a suggestion that, if the stewards are not going to be eliminated, try this: If it is not obvious to absolutely everybody, make no change.

Just because something happens does not mean anything has to be done. I was working the Maryland at Penn State basketball game Feb. 14. Late in the game, two big players ended up on the floor for no apparent reason. The official, sensing something untoward had happened, called an illegal screen on the Penn State player. The referee did not really know what had happened. He just felt obligated to make a call. A replay showed that the Maryland player had actually locked his arm inside the Penn State player’s arm and pulled him to the ground, not an easy play to see in real time. The official got the play completely wrong. The Penn State coach went crazy and eventually got fined for his postgame comments. What the ref should have done was nothing. If you can’t be sure, why take a stand?

There is zero chance that the Gulfstream Park stewards were certain that Upstart had committed a foul in the Fountain of Youth, but they took him down anyway. Yes, something happened, but what was it exactly, and what did it really mean? I have no answers, and neither do they.

Unlike in team sports, calls in horse racing are obviously even more important. Outcomes are not changed after the fact in other sports. They are changed all the time in horse racing. If that is going to continue, please adopt a standard that when, if there is any doubt at all, the original result stands.