09/17/2017 10:35AM

Watchmaker: Betting public deserves to see critical disqualification replays


Before I get to thoughts on some of Saturday’s stakes action, a rant:

Horseplayers have to struggle and fight for every inch they get, but there are some routine services the industry should provide them without question or debate. For example, it should be a given that when a horse is disqualified, there should be some form of explanation to the betting public, a constituency that some track managements seem to forget extends far beyond the gates of their facilities and reaches to other tracks, simulcast emporiums, homes, and mobile phones everywhere.

I’m not talking about having the stewards come on the track video feed and explain their decisions. We could and probably should be talking about that, since there is no good reason, certainly not from a technological standpoint in 2017, for it not to happen, other than it might expose the folks who actually occupy the stewards stand. In the meantime, imagine the goodwill generated for the first track to adopt such a procedure.

No, I’m talking about something much more basic. I’m talking about the video replay explanation that has followed disqualifications for many decades now. These video explanations, incorporating whatever pan or head-on shot that best illustrates the incident, traditionally accompanied by a verbal explanation from the track announcer (why the track announcer is put in the position of having to explain a stewards' decision instead of the stewards themselves is a mystery) must, in the absence of a better system, be offered in every disqualification that affects the betting public.

Unfortunately, this did not happen Saturday after Churchill Downs’ ninth race, the Open Mind Stakes.

(Right here, let me state that I was not involved in the Open Mind. I like to bet, but I had no action in any pool involving this race.)

Ivy Bell, the 3-5 favorite in the Open Mind, slipped up on the rail inside of the pacesetter and second choice Mayla into the stretch, making what appeared to be a winning move. But Mayla, in response to that challenge, appeared to come in, appeared to put Ivy Bell in tight on the rail, and then Ivy Bell appeared to clip heels, causing her to stumble badly and toss jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. to the ground. Thank goodness Hernandez was uninjured, and Ivy Bell never actually fell.

There are a lot of “appeareds” in the above paragraph. Here’s why: I, and the vast majority of everyone else who watched the Open Mind, still do not have any idea of what really happened between Mayla and Ivy Bell in upper stretch because Churchill Downs never bothered to show the all-critical head-on shot of the stretch run.

Mayla was disqualified to last after the stewards ruled she caused Ivy Bell to stumble. The victory thus went to Grace's Treasure.

Oh, and by the way: Ivy Bell and Mayla were the first two betting favorites.

I know. I was looking for this stretch run head-on because I wanted to see just how tight Mayla made it for Ivy Bell. I wanted to know if Mayla’s jockey, Gabriel Saez, was being reckless. But having never been provided with a head-on shot, I have no idea if this disqualification was warranted, or completely bogus. And the vast majority of people who watched the Open Mind, and most importantly those who were pari-mutuelly involved, have no idea, either.

Look, I understand why some tracks are reluctant to show replays involving spills. Showing multiple replays of a spill (or a breakdown) could in extreme circumstances be viewed as cruel, and might throw red meat to factions that wish our game ill will.

But I completely disagree with this in-the-dark policy. It’s censorship. Not showing an ugly replay doesn’t erase the spill from history and it handicaps the betting public by restricting their information.

Even if some tracks prefer this policy, it must be overridden every time a disqualification is involved. There is simply no justification for not showing a replay illustrating as clearly as possible why a horse was disqualified, especially considering the profound impact on the betting public. To do less or otherwise is a violation of trust.

** I was wrong thinking World Approval would be compromised in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile by not getting the off turf he so clearly adores, and on which he won the Grade 1 Fourstardave and the Grade 2 Dixie this year. World Approval was very, very good Saturday on firm footing, disputing a strong early pace that saw all the other early participants finish well up the track, and drawing away strongly through Woodbine’s forever stretch.

This has been a crazy year in the American turf male division with a rotating cast of characters up at the top of the group. But think what you will of World Approval, who has been a lunch-pail type for most of his career, he is, at what he does, as good or better than anyone we have out there right now.

** Given the state of our male turf division, I was sure it would be easy pickings for good European shippers, but it has not worked out that way. Euro shippers failed in the Arlington Million, Secretariat, and Sword Dancer, as well as the Woodbine Mile, and in the Northern Dancer Turf on the Woodbine Mile undercard.

The Northern Dancer was an especially bad loss for the 3-5 European Hawksbill. Hawksbill, winner of the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse last year, and winner of a Group 2 and second in a Group 1 this summer, might have lost the Northern Dancer by only a head. But Hawksbill had everything absolutely his own way on the early lead and should have romped. Instead, he couldn’t hold off Johnny Bear, who was running for a tag early this year in Tampa.

** Here’s hoping Churchill’s Iroquois and the Pocahontas prove to be inauspicious beginnings to 2-year-old route stakes racing this fall. The Tabulator and Patrona Margarita were both deserving winners, but their respective Beyer Figures of 76 and 69 were uninspiring.