In two of the three graded stakes run at Saratoga this weekend, the winner was decided by the Stewards’ disqualifying the horse who crossed the finish line first. By their nature, DQ’s are going to be controversial since the losing bettor is often disgruntled. The New York agency that regulates gambling announced in May that it would publish the reasoning of the Stewards to promote transparency and integrity in racing. Unfortunately, the published decisions are anything but transparent.
In Saturday’s Grade II Sanford, Magna Light was leading down the stretch before sharply veering out from the rail, crossing in front of his rivals. He then moved back in towards the rail, again crossing in front of those chasing him. There did not appear to be any contact, although it looked like Percolator may have checked when the leader made his second move.. Magna Light finished 3/4 of a length in front of Uncle Vinny, who was 1/2 length ahead of Percolator. The “inquiry” sign flashed, and Percolator’s jockey lodged an objection.
It was not clear to me which of Magna Light’s deviations from running straight was the problem, although the jockey’s objection would indicate he thought it was the second move. In my opinion, however, I did not think the winner should be DQ’d. (I did not have a wager on the race.) The Stewards disagreed, placing Magna Light third and moving Uncle Vinny to first and Percolator to second.
Here is the actual text of the Stewards” ruling from NYRA’s web site:
Race 9: Steward’s Inquiry and Jockey’s Objection: Kendrick Carmouche, the rider of # 10 Percolator, lodged an objection against the winner, # 4 Magna Light, for alleged interference in stretch. # 4 Magna Light racing on the lead shifts out several paths after passing the 1/8 pole. # 10 steadies briefly though # 4 is clear when crossing. # 4 then drifts back down toward the # 10 in the final strides causing # 4 to steady.
# 4 finishes third, beaten a half-length for second.
After reviewing the race videos and speaking with the riders involved, # 4 is disqualified from first and placed third, behind # 10.
The Stewards obviously did not bother to proof read their decision since they twice referred to the #10 horse (Percolator) as #4. More significantly, of course, is that there is no explanation for their decision. Was it the first move by Magna Light that was the problem, or was it the second? Did it affect the outcome of the race, or was he being penalized for interference even though it did not affect the final result? (The Gaming Commission, NYRA and The Jockey Club each appoint a steward.)
When New York’s Gaming Commission ballyhooed its decision to publish the Stewards’ decisions back in May, it said the decisions of stewards would “include detailed explanations of any rulings, inquiries, claims of foul and more.” The Commission further stated that the votes would be published – whether “unanimous or majority-ruled.” Clearly, neither was done here. There is also nothing in the decision that is not already known to anyone who saw the race – except, of course, for the conclusion.
The Saturday ruling, however, is the norm for every decision emanating from the stewards since the May announcement of the Gaming Commission. Sunday’s decision elevating Curalina over I’m a Chatterbox is similarly devoid of even a hint of an explanation or the voting breakdown of the stewards. At least in that case, one can assume the winner’s bumping Curalina near the finish was the reason for the DQ.
The idea behind making the reasoning transparent, of course, is that fans and bettors should not have to assume. The Commission’s May press release highlighted the importance of promoting integrity in racing, but when you do not know the actual reasoning underlying a decision, it weakens confidence in the sport.
Todd Pletcher coincidentally was the beneficiary of both DQ’s, having trained the official winners. The conspiracy theorists are already claiming that was the real basis for both decisions. An owner of Magna Light reportedly asserted that the Mexican heritage of trainer Rudy Rodriguez was the basis for that decision. They have appealed the DQ to the Gaming Commission.
While I think the speculations on the “real” reason for the DQ’s are ridiculous, the Stewards did themselves no favors by putting out a meaningless explanation that made little sense. Unfortunately, it is also another example of New York’s racing officials putting out press releases that have little connection to reality – yet another blow to the goal of fostering integrity.