02/27/2014 3:03PM

Steven Crist: Stewards' standards need reviewing

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Tom Keyser
Strategic Keeper (left) and Collinito were involved in a bumping incident that resulted in the disqualification of Collinito and an extremely bad beat for one Rainbow Six player at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 22.

When the Gulfstream Park stewards disqualified Collinito from first place in last Saturday’s 12th and final race, prompting another carryover in the track’s Rainbow Six wager instead of a $1.6 million payout to a bettor with the lone live ticket to the original winner, Internet forums and social-media feeds went ablaze with allegations of injustice and chicanery. Nearly a week later, it remains a dominant topic in the sport.

The decision to take down Collinito, for bothering runner-up Strategic Keeper down the stretch, was arguable but reasonable. It was not a phantom foul, and Strategic Keeper  fell short by just a neck after apparently being bothered twice by the winner. The takedown would have attracted little attention had it not been for the unusual circumstance of the lone live Rainbow Six ticket. The allegations of perfidy, and the whole idea of track management criminally conspiring with the game’s judges to create a carryover for financial gain, were outrageously unfair and completely unsubstantiated.

Nevertheless, the incident has started a useful conversation, if not the one that began with whether this particular call was a fair and honest one. The anger of so many customers, rightly or wrongly, is itself an indictment of the status quo.

Officiating, and the explanation of stewards’ decisions, is one of those corners of the racing game that is largely unexplored and has not been upgraded in decades. Racing was once way ahead of other professional sports in trying to get it right, using the photo-finish camera and replays of race footage from patrol cameras decades before the major sports caught up with instant-replay review. 

They have quickly shot past racing, however, using superior video technology that makes it stunningly clear whether someone has launched a jump shot before or after the shot clock has expired and whether a receiver’s feet were in bounds when he caught a pass. More importantly, those sports have thought out procedures and protocols for reviewing and announcing their decisions. Stubborn fans will still ignore the evidence and claim the fix was in, but at least these sports give the impression they are doing everything possible to get the calls right.

Racing, on the other hand, seems imperious and high-handed by comparison. The public stands around waiting for a decision that could take one minute or a dozen, not knowing what the stewards are watching or talking about. Eventually a judgment is issued, in the form of a couple of terse and stilted sentences that explain little and satisfy few. It conveys a defensive and dismissive attitude and a lack of seriousness – mirrored in the (mercifully brief) decision by some New York tracks a few years ago to precede stewards’ rulings on track monitors with a cartoon graphic of a robed judge hitting a horse on the head with a gavel. All that was missing was a whimsical tuba or wah-wah-wah sound effect to rub it in a little more.

There is no reason for stewards to continue to be unseen and unaccountable rulers from on high. As others have suggested, instead of operating like secret tribunals, they should instead go on closed-circuit television and explain their rulings when they change the original order of finish in a race.

Disenfranchised bettors will still be unhappy if the call goes against them, and the tinfoil-hat crowd will continue to call them crooks, but the process would make customers feel that the proprietors understand that nothing is more serious or important than treating this part of the game with seriousness and respect.

That kind of accountability will have other benefits. Requiring a full and plain-English explanation for a disqualification will reinforce that the order of finish in a race should only be changed when it clearly affected the outcome of a race. There is always going to be judgment involved, but there has to be a standard of reasonableness differentiating a finish-altering foul from a technical violation of something as vague as “keeping a straight course.”

Disqualifications also should never be used as a punitive tool for a kind of race-riding the stewards wish to discourage. That’s what fines, suspensions, and morning-after film reviews with the jockeys are for. You don’t need to redistribute public money unfairly to discipline riders.

The opportunity is there for some track to pioneer new best practices for disqualifications and how they are communicated and explained to the public. Here’s hoping someone takes the lead, and soon.

TomN More than 1 year ago
Steve, article ok, but no need for the "tin foil hat" to describe the fans...after all if you're calling the stewards "imperious", the need to impugn the ones that feel that got "jobbed" is not necessary
Bobby Yasinow More than 1 year ago
I respect Steve very much, but I still feel the DQ was a horrible call.
Matt Zebriski More than 1 year ago
Steven has it right, we need to upgrade the process and create standards. How about these suggestions: 1. Qualify stewards through a rigorous process; many stewards today are unqualified to actually make decisions that impact thousands, if not millions of dollars, and pay stewards as full time employees not contracted employees. 2. Use overhead cameras, like those in the NFL. Many fouls occur in turns where current videography is ill-equipped to properly assess. 3. Define infractions as events that are triggered by humans, not animals...how does a horse know whether or not to cut off another horse... 4. If a jockey causes a horse to interfere, there should be stiff penalties, without appeal. 5. Drifting and lugging without egregious jockey initiation should be tolerated. 6. No DQs should ever result from his tarting gate infractions. 7. The notion of maintain "a path", i.e. The third path from the rail should be discounted both going into and coming out of turns, where physics dictate a a different result than a railroad track would otherwise give. 8. Stewards should stop discussing infractions with jockeys...when was the last time you saw a referee ask a DB "before I decide to penalize you 35 yes for interference, can you explain why you mugged that wide receiver"? 9. If horse bump, but neither alters it's action, then that's racing. 10. Have the stewards explain, immediately following a decision to change the financial fortunes of thousands, exactly what happened, what was the rule violated, who was responsible, and why they arrived at the decision. Lord knows we have enough time for that in between races.
Poker Writer More than 1 year ago
I thought the DQ of Collinito in Race 12 on February 22 at Gulfstream Park was somewhat justifiable, considering second-place finisher Strategic Keeper appeared that he likely would have won the race if not being forced to steady in early stretch as the winner drifted out. Strategic Keeper was coming back at the end and just missed. It should be noted that there did not appear to be any physical contact in that case. Now contrast that with what happened today in today's 6th Race at Gulfstream Park, when winner Hard Enough drifted out in the drive, first taking the path of favorite Burn the Mortgage and forcing that one to steady, and worse, coming out more than once under LEFT-HANDED urging and physically bumping with Cummings Road, who ended up losing by a nose. Both Javier Castellano aboard Burn the Mortgage, and Julien Leparoux aboard Cummings Road, lodged justified claims of foul against the winner, who should NEVER have been allowed to stay up, but even moreso considering the Collinito DQ. You can't tell me that there are no inconsistencies here, unless you are a novice race watcher.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Today, Thursday 2/27/2014 these same stewards didn't scratch a 7/5 favorite listed as an entry on MTO, knowing the races were not being taken off the turf. They scratched the horse sometime around the 3rd or 4th race. The post time favorite ran out leaving any early pick 6 tickets automatic losers. How can the authorities not investigate how this organization is taking advantage of the public. State won't, because they are getting free $$ from the stupid degenerate gamblers who are actually being scammed. Perhaps the feds need to take a look.
RingForFrodo More than 1 year ago
You obviously wrote this article before the GP 6th race "no call" on Thursday, which pours even more gasoline the the fires of discontent. Any player on the short end of both those calls, made by the same judges, let alone different racetracks, has to be in shock.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Has anything ever been fixed or manipulated ( any race ever ) ??. Did a front runner ever just get left alone on the front end , did a rider ever find trouble, Go Wide, Force a duel , buzz a horse. --- EVER, EVER , EVER UNSUBSTANTIATED Guess what even when its committed they say UNSUBSTANTIATED
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
The problem with it all is its never SUBSTANTIATED ( NEVER) EVER .
Mark D More than 1 year ago
It seems the biggest discrepancy is Dirt Races vs Turf Races. A lot more is tolerated in turf racing.
EDWARD B More than 1 year ago
how come Paco Lopez gets to cut off Burn the Mortgage(even money favorite) and body slam Cummings Road two times and survives two objections from hall of fame jockeys? i think we know the awful truth is in poetry:a fix is a fix is a fix no matter what! any one for conspiracy theory? The DQ is just another tool in the giant bag of tricks to produce the desired results in this scripted plan to take your money. i admit it is one of the last resort tool but it comes in handy now and then!