By DICK POWELL
Let’s get out the dictionary.
Today’s first word is controversial. It means giving rise to or likely to give rise to public disagreement.
Today’s second word is dilemma. It means a situation in which a choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones.
Being a steward in horse racing is a controversial job. If they take a horse down; some are unhappy. If they leave a horse up; some are unhappy.
Every time there is an inquiry or claim of foul, they face a dilemma since no matter what choice they make, many bettors are going to be unhappy.
On Saturday in the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct, Johnny Velazquez had the eventual winner VINO ROSSO on the outside turning for home and herded ENTICED down to the inside. From there, he bumped ENTICED a couple of times before drawing away.
Yes, this was going to be a controversial decision and the stewards were faced with a dilemma. But, somebody has to call ball and strikes. Right?
To make the whole situation worse, there were technical difficulties on the NYRA simulcast feed so there was an interminable wait before we were shown the head-on replay. To the best of my knowledge, we never saw the replay from behind.
When I got home and watched the NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the Wood, they had no technical difficulties and showed the head-on replay in high definition. VINO ROSSO leaned in so much that his hind end went out. After a long delay, the stewards made no change to the outcome.
In the official chart of the Wood, the chart caller wrote: “Stewards’ Inquiry focusing on the stretch run, in addition to a claim of foul lodged by the rider of ENTICED against the rider of VINO ROSSO alleging interference, the result was allowed to stand and the race was declared official.”
That was all the explanation that was provided. The next day, Stewards announced Velazquez was fined $1,500 for careless riding and a failure to maintain a proper effort to maintain a straight course with his mount.
Twelve minutes later, and about 3,000 miles away at Santa Anita, we saw another controversial decision by Stewards faced with a dilemma. In race seven, an optional claiming/allowance race on the turf, Javier Castellano pulled out all the stops to get ACCOUNTABILITY across the finish line.
Not only did he come drift in on his mount but then nearing the wire, he drifted out and bumped a different horse. Here is how the Equibase chart caller described the race: “ACCOUNTABILITY stalked the pace inside, moved up inside on the second turn then came out into the stretch, bid three deep to gain a slim lead, drifted in and brushed twice with FORTUNE OF WAR in the final furlong, then drifted out under left handed urging and bumped with the runner-up in late stretch but held gamely.”
So, Castellano moved in and brushed twice with FORTUNE OF WAR and then nearing the wire, he went out a couple of paths to bump with AVALANCHE. At this point, if you had ACCOUNTABILITY, you had to figure they were going to take you down.
But, according to the Equibase chart of the race: “The stewards conducted an inquiry into the stretch run of the first three finishers but made no change when they ruled the winner’s actions did not deprive the other pair of a placing.”
Right call or wrong call, at least they told us why they left ACCOUNTABILITY up. Still not as good as Australia or Dubai where they show you the riders and the stewards in the same room discussing what happened. But, better than New York.
Our industry constantly complains about uniform rules and here is the classic case: In the 1967 Jersey Derby at Garden State, the immortal DR. FAGER cut off his three rivals going into the clubhouse turn and went on to win by open lengths. He was disqualified and placed last. Under today’s rules, stewards are given the ability to say it did not affect the outcome of the race. I vehemently disagree but recognize that I am in a small, diminishing minority. In my world, DR. FAGER, one of my all-time favorites, should come down every time.
Fouls are fouls. They should be called and the game will be much safer. Riders push the envelope and when they get away with herding, they will herd even more. We see it every day in New York and Gulfstream. And keep waiting for it to be stopped. The Wood had a $1 million purse with the winner receiving $535,000. The rider gets 10% of that or $53,500. The jockey agent gets about 25% of that so the rider is left with about $40K. So a $1,500 fine is going to stop it from happening again?