by Laura Pugh
The biggest complaint regarding stewards has more to do with the consistency of their decisions than the decisions themselves. For many fans, this was on display Saturday, February 21, at Gulfstream Park where the headline Fountain of Youth Stakes featured a disqualification while two other races did not, following lengthy inquiries.
The first of three incidents happened in the Rampart Stakes when the winner, House Rules, drifted inside and impeded Sheer Drama, who placed second. The third instance came in the last race on the card when Danish Dynaformer repeatedly bumped Dreaming of Gold, who was only beaten a neck, down the stretch. Danish Dynaformer and House Rules were both left up while stewards placed Fountain of Youth winner Upstart, second behind Itsaknockout.
The Fountain of Youth had two incidents: One at the top of the stretch where Frosted drifted out, bumping Upstart, possibly starting a chain reaction, by causing Upstart to drift into Itsaknockout.
The second occurred in mid-stretch. Itsaknockout began to re-rally and managed to come alongside Upstart, who by now had the lead. At this point the jockey aboard Upstart, Jose Ortiz, gave his mount three left handed cracks, causing his mount to drift into the path of Itsaknockout, and ultimately causing the jockey aboard that one to stop riding in an effort to avoid clipping heels. During this point, Ortiz made no move to correct his mount’s path, and only switched hands after his mount had successfully impeded Itsaknockout.
After watching all three races, the difference between the disqualified and left up is that only Upstart appeared to have a jockey whose encouraged his mount to crowd the path of his pursuer.
Yes, the top two finishers in both the Rampart and nightcap raced in close quarters, but the runners up in neither race had to stop riding, as was the case with Itsaknockout engaging Upstart in the Fountain of Youth.
Ortiz allowed Upstart go too far and cause a potentially dangerous situation. That cannot be rewarded, especially when considering that Itsaknockout was closing steadily until forced to stop striding out, losing momentum.
Some argue that Itsaknockout was not beating Upstart regardless of trip. However, that is purely conjecture while it is a fact that Upstart did not keep a clear path in part because his jockey’s actions led to the crowding and impediment of Itsaknockout.
For that reason, the stewards made the right call.
Laura Pugh is a Delaware-based blogger