10/08/2003 11:00PM

Plea to stewards: Let results stand on BC Day


PHILADELPHIA - Here is a suggestion for the Santa Anita Park stewards. Take the day off on Oct. 25.

Go to the beach. Take a tour of movie stars' mansions. Cruise by O.J. Simpson's old house.

Just stay away from the track.

Undoubtedly, you are all fine Americans. None of you were in the California governor's race so you obviously are not in this life for personal glory. Surely, you work very hard at your jobs.

The Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, however, can do just fine without you. In fact, it would be best for all concerned if maybe you just take a wrong turn on Breeders' Cup Day and end up at Hollywood Park.

Readers of this space know my feelings about stewards. I have nothing against stewards personally; for the most part, I am sure, they try their best.

Still, why must we be subjected to an anachronism that would never be tolerated in a mainstream sport? There are simply too many stewards decisions that make no sense.

Can somebody please explain what happened in the race that ended Azeri's winning streak? Elloluv finished second in that race, the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 28. A few minutes later, Elloluv was placed fourth. Anyone who bet exactas with Elloluv in the place hole, where she finished, lost.

As far I could tell, nothing much happened. So, why was the filly disqualified?

I had not seen all of the different angles, so I called a friend who was at Santa Anita that day. What did I miss? Nothing, he told me. Nothing happened.

He went on to say that this kind of stuff had been happening for months. There were so many mysterious disqualifications that he had lost count.

I don't know all of the specifics of what has gone down in Southern California, but I do know this. This can't happen on Breeders' Cup Day.

Stewards, in general, seem to look for reasons to disqualify horses rather than reasons to let an original result stand. Just as nobody goes to a baseball game to see the umpires, nobody goes to the track to see the stewards.

If it were up to me, I would just eliminate stewards entirely. I have seen too much injustice and downright incompetence over the years to have any faith in a flawed system. When the rules of racing differ from state to state and nobody really knows what is what, there is something fundamentally wrong.

Knowing that the idea of eliminating stewards entirely is tilting at racing windmills, I would at least make these small suggestions:

* Stop talking to jockeys about claims of foul and inquiries. Can you imagine a football referee asking an offensive lineman if he was holding?

* Just look at the race live and then look at the tapes. Then make a decision.

* And don't look for long. If you are not convinced of something after a couple of looks, make no change.

If racing were a mainstream sport that was scrutinized on a daily basis by a probing media, the arbitrary nature of stewards' rulings would not be tolerated.

Rules are often changed or modified in the NFL when it becomes obvious that they make no sense in an evolving game. When was the last time a racing rule was changed? Does anybody even know the rules of racing?

And, finally, all stewards should keep in mind that they really are not like umpires or referees. Those people make judgments on plays throughout a game. One single call almost never affects the outcome. And no calls ever change the outcome after the game is over.

Stewards have incredible power. They can and often do change the result of a race.

If the Santa Anita stewards ignore my suggestion and appear for work on Oct. 25, one can only hope they arrive with a benevolent attitude. The racing gods are fickle enough. The players who make this game go and have made the Breeders' Cup the greatest gambling day of the year do not need any divine intervention from high above the grandstand.