Round Table won’t address stewards’ decision-making process
by Dick Powell
The Jockey Club will hold its annual Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing a week from Sunday, August 14. Each year, well-meaning horse racing executives identify things wrong with horse racing in North America and provide solutions.
If one were to go back to examine past Round Tables, the percentage of goals being achieved is quite low. Remember all the money they spent on the McKinsey & Company report? It identified a bunch of topics that horseplayers were apparently interested in and at the top of the list was field size.
Players that were interviewed were adamant that they need bigger field sizes to make races more attractive to bet on. The best way to describe it was “We want seven 10s, not 10 sevens.”
But instead of listening to the market research that McKinsey & Company provided, we still mainly get 10 races a day with seven-horse fields instead of seven races a day with 10-horse fields.
One thing we will not hear at this year’s Round Table conference is procedures that stewards follow. We saw a perfect example of it last Friday at Saratoga in the 5TH race.
In the deep stretch in a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint, FREUD’S FRIEND (Freud) was clinging to the lead with JO’S BOLD CAT (Courageous Cat) bearing down. The chart caller saw it this way:
“(FREUD’S FRIEND) dug in under a near sided stick and shied outwards herding out JO'S BOLD CAT as that foe latched on outside, was corrected by the rider then came out in the final jumps nearing the wire to herd that foe out slightly again and just got the bob on the wire in a game effort.
“(JO’S BOLD CAT) dug in under a drive and was herded out by the aforementioned foe as he latched on to that one a sixteenth from home, shied out under his own volition to the wire then has his main rival come out sharply towards him in the last jumps and lost the bob at the finish while clear of the rest for the place honors.”
Now this has nothing to do with whether or not Freud’s Friend should have been disqualified. What it has to do with are the doubts and suspicions that arise when the stewards do not flash the “Inquiry” sign and deny us the ability to look at the replay from all angles.
Anyone that watched the 5TH race on Friday at Saratoga could see that something happened; that the rider on Jo’s Bold Cat, Luis Saez, had to veer out to avoid Manny Franco aboard Freud’s Friend, who came out on him not once, but twice.
So we are immediately expecting the “inquiry” sign to be lit. But it wasn’t. Then, we expected Saez to at least file a claim of foul. But he didn’t. So now the horses come back to be unsaddled and the “Official” sign was lit.
After the initial full-race replay was shown, the head-on replay was shown. When the horses turn for home, Franco comes out and herds Saez around the sixteenth-pole but then right at the wire, he takes a right-hand turn and carries Saez and Jo’s Bold Cat out at least four paths.
There did not look like there was physical contact but we only got to see it once and never was able to see the replay from behind.
Even if the stewards made the right decision, not lighting the “Inquiry” sign signifies to us that they believe nothing happened. The stewards will argue that they are looking at the replay but the only way we get to see what they are looking at is for us to light the “Inquiry” sign. It inspires little confidence on the part of the betting public.
As far as inquiries delaying post times, have you been to Saratoga lately? There is enough time between races to load the horses back into the gate and run the race over.
Maybe it’s just me being more conspiratorial than normal but you also have to question why jockeys do not claim foul like they used to? One theory of mine is that fewer jocks now claim foul since jockey agents are now able to represent more than one jockey. So, even more than ever, the stewards have to light the “Inquiry” sign and give the players a level of confidence that riding infractions are being adjudicated correctly.