08/08/2011 12:13PM

Santa Rosa: Stauffer facing challenge of new role

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Saturday’s running of the Jess Jackson Owners’ Handicap at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa was a steward’s worst nightmare.

Ain’t No Other broke like a bullet, immediately going to the lead in the speed-laden race and won convincingly. But he pulled a no-no in the stretch, drifting out badly and obstructing Starboardlights, who ended up third. Although he was first under the wire by 1 3/4 lengths, Ain’t No Other was disqualified and placed third behind Goggles McCoy and Starboardlights.

Watching the drama unfold was Vic Stauffer, a familiar sight at Santa Rosa, who used to watch and describe races there from the announcer’s booth but this time was on the rooftop in the stewards’ stand. Stauffer, who won an Eclipse Award as a radio journalist, has done close to everything at the racetrack over the past 35 years, including grooming and hotwalking. But this is his first meeting as a steward.

The disqualification was an easy call by the standards by the rules of racing. Ain’t No Other’s actions definitely seemed to compromise Starboardlights’s chance of finishing second. But there also was no doubt he was the best horse in the race.

“It kills us to take down the best horse,” said Stauffer. “I felt bad for everybody involved – owner, trainer, jockey, bettors who scoped out a winner. The last hundred yards, I subconsciously wanted (Starboardlights) to finish second so there would be the chance we wouldn’t have to disqualify the winner.”

Earlier in the stretch, Goggles McCoy and Starboardlights bumped each other, and that incident was also part of the review. Stauffer, whose turn it was to write the stewards’ minutes, said stewards considered the incident inconsequential to the final result. (Stewards’ minutes are available to fans online at the California Horse Racing Board website, www.chrb.ca.gov.)

Stauffer, who has called thousands of races during his 30 years as an announcer as well as doing live television, knows the pressure of making the right call.

“Comparing that to the pressure of being in the [stewards’] stand, there’s probably 10 times any pressure I felt as an announcer,” he said. “You want to do the best possible job as announcer, but if you make a mistake, it only affects you. As a steward, you have the responsibility to administer and interpret the rules of racing for horsemen, jockeys and bettors.”

“I’ve been an announcer for 30 years, and if I’m a steward that long, I can tell you the pressure won’t dissipate.” As an announcer, Stauffer had to work closely with stewards and says he has always had the utmost respect for them. Although he concedes is might sound “sappy or schmaltzy,” Stauffer said he has been incredibly blessed by the game/business of horse racing. He said he hoped that working as a steward would be the way, “I could best give something back to the sport and the players if I’m able to do the job.” Stauffer passed the California test to become a steward in 2008 and was actually assigned to the 2009 Los Alamitos meeting, but he was also booking mounts for Joel Rosario in addition to his announcing duties at Hollywood Park and decided to remain with Rosario, who had a breakthrough year.

He was booking mounts for Tyler Baze last year when Baze was injured at Del Mar, and Stauffer decided to retire as an agent. He was appointed to the final four fair meetings of the year (Santa Rosa, Ferndale, Fairplex, and Fresno).

He said it was his good fortune to be assigned with Grant Baker and Will Meyers at Santa Rosa. Both are veteran stewards but also friends. He said he has made “rookie mistakes” but asked Baker and Meyers to offer honest critiques of his work.

“Having called 35,000 races and had directors in my ear during live telecasts, I can take criticism well,” Stauffer said.

Shermans have good day

Saturday was a big day for trainer Steve Sherman, who won the Jess Jackson with Goggles McCoy on the disqualification of Ain’t No Other and saw Ultra Blend, trained by his father, Art, captured the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar.

Ultra Blend was actually stabled in Northern California and won last year’s California State Fair Sprint before heading south, where she has turned into a Grade 1 winner with a chance to run in the Breeders’ Cup.

Goggles McCoy pleased Sherman with the way he ran.

“It was definitely a gift,” Sherman said. “He wasn’t going to beat [Ain’t No Other].”

◗ Bold Chieftain ran second in his third straight stakes in Sunday’s Joseph T. Grace, but the 8-year-old millionaire came out of the race in good shape. Although trainer Bill Morey Jr. says his star’s career is “winding down,” he said he would probably run at least one more time at the Golden Gate Fields fall meet starting in October.

◗ Saturday’s Robert Dupret Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the turf attracted only eight nominees. Road Ready, who will make his turf and route debut, and Irish-bred Memen are the only stakes winners nominated. On Sunday, 2-year-olds will run in the Cavonnier.

◗ The Humboldt County Fair at Ferndale will have its opening day Friday, as both it and the Sonoma County Fair race over the weekend.