The Breeders’ Cup Bias & Other Nonsense

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Derek Simon

November 8th, 2014

Well, it turns out Yogi Berra was right: It’s déjà vu all over again.

One year after cries of “speed bias” erupted after nearly every Breeders’ Cup race run over the main track at Santa Anita in 2013, the bias boys — and girls — were out in full force again this year.

In fact, veteran turf scribe Gary West went so far as blame the “speed bias” and a lack of equine stars for “ruining the 2014 Breeders’ Cup.

Ah, leave it to the racing media to bolster the sport on its biggest day. All that was missing was an investigative piece by the New York Times blaming the purported bias for causing pari-mutuel mayhem, while accusing Breeders’ Cup officials of willful negligence.

According to West, Saturday’s Santa Anita surface was “silly-fast.”

“The speed bias couldn't have been stronger if the competitors had been jumping off a bridge into a river — first one to jump gets there first,” wrote West.

Uh, OK.

Look, call me cynic but I don’t think there’s even a fraction of this bias bluster if the Breeders’ Cup takes place east of the Mississippi. In fact, when four of five main-track races were won by horses among the top three at the first call in the 1999 BC at Gulfstream Park, I heard nary a peep about a speed bias.

Also, when did it become fashionable to draw definitive conclusions on the basis of a few races — usually one? For heaven’s sake, it’s like Tom Smykowski’s vision come to life.

As I noted on my latest podcast, not only was there no evidence of a speed bias at Santa Anita this past weekend, most races produced speed rations (my own measurement of early and late energy disbursement) that were right in line with historical pars.

For those, like West, who believe that Take Charge Brandi’s win was due solely to the track surface, how does one explain earlier editions of the Juvenile Fillies? After all, over the past 18 years, six — that’s right, half a dozen — two-year-old fillies led from flag fall to finish in America’s richest race for juvenile females. Minus 2008 and 2009, when the race was contested over Santa Anita’s notorious Pro-Ride surface, and we’re left with a 38.8 percent wire-to-wire win rate in the BC Juvenile Fillies since 1997.

What’s more, four of those front-running victresses recorded a better, i.e. faster, early speed ration (ESR) than Take Charge Brandi.

Folklore posted a ridiculously quick -16, while Cash Run and Indian Blessing earned -13 ESRs.

But, alas, all four of those fillies competed at East Coast racetracks, where front speed biases apparently don’t exist… and the Breeders’ Cup isn’t “ruined” because of them.

The DQ That Wasn’t

As I noted on my Facebook page, I was among those in favor of letting the result of the Breeders’ Cup Classic stand. It is my belief (once shared by the horse racing community at large) that stewards are there to protect the betting public — and that would not have been the case had Bayern’s number come down.

Bayern won. The horses he bothered the most — race favorite Shared Belief and pace rival Moreno — finished off the board. Therefore, any disqualification, which calls for the guilty horse to be place behind the horse he/she interfered with, would have served no purpose outside of a punitive one. Toast of New York, a horse who was also guilty of herding in my opinion, would have been made the winner — despite the fact that he had every chance to get past Bayern late and couldn’t do it.

However, it was the steward’s “defense” of their ruling that had me scratching my head.

“Films revealed that Mr. Garcia [Bayern’s jockey, Martin] corrected his horse immediately (second stride), and therefore in our unanimous opinion, no penalty was appropriate,” the stewards said in a statement.

Huh? If Garcia “corrected his horse immediately,” I’d shudder to think what might have happened had his reaction been delayed. I fear Bayern might, even now, be running across the Santa Anita infield.

The stewards were right to take no action, but rather than try to justify what was obviously an infraction of the rules, they would have been better served to reiterate their higher purpose, which, as I noted earlier, is to protect the betting public.

To his credit, one of the presiding stewards, Scott Chaney, did just that in the Santa Anita press box shortly after the race.

Citing California Horse Racing rule 1699, Chaney noted that stewards have leeway in determining whether or not a disqualification is warranted.

“Obviously, subjectivity is written into the rule. We could go back to the old way of 'a foul is a foul' but that leads to inequitable results,” Chaney said. “We've gotten away from that. The current rule requires us to make some determination if the horse is cost a better placing.

“The casual wagering public sees interference and expects some sort of punishment. But this rule is not about punishment but about creating some equity. We're trying to get rid of that unfairness. Over time, this is a lot more equitable than the old rules.”

If I may presume to speak for other horse players, all we want is consistency… something that is sorely lacking in the sport today.

After the race, mixed among the cries of outrage, were statements like “they never disqualify horses for interference at the start” and “Bayern’s actions were commonplace — it happens all the time.”

To this, I offer exhibits A, B and C:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C


Exhibit A is the head-on of the debacle at the start of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Remember that Bayern is horse no. 7.

Exhibit B is the head-on of the fourth race at Santa Anita on January 10, 2014. This was a $16,000 claiming affair for non-winners of three lifetime. The horse to watch is no. 3, Di Conti, ridden by Martin Pedroza.

Like Bayern, Di Conti veers left at the start, interfering with the horse to his immediate inside (2-Da Ruler). Unlike Bayern, however, Di Conti was disqualified and placed behind Da Ruler, who finished sixth — a full 5 ¼ lengths behind Di Conti.

Furthermore, Pedroza was ordered suspended for three racing days under the same rule (1699) used to exonerate both Bayern and Garcia. Granted, Di Conti finished off the board in that Jan. 10 contest, but how does one justify suspending Pedroza while giving Garcia a pass?

In addition, to those claiming that bumping and herding incidents at the start are as common as a publicity-seeking Kardashian, I present Exhibit C, which is an overhead shot of the start of the 2014 Kentucky Derby.

Despite an overflow field of 20 horses (the Breeders’ Cup fields are capped at 14), notice that no Bayern-like actions can be seen.

Bottom line: The ruling was good, the justification… well, that needs a little work.