What constitutes a race foul needs to be more properly defined
by DICK POWELL
The newly-minted Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF) came out with their second report titled "Changing the Rules." It recommends that North American racing adopt the International Horse Racing Federation's Category 1 interference philosophy adjudicating races. Currently only two countries (Canada and the United States) in the world use Category 2, whose "Rules provide that the interferer is guilty of causing interference and such interference has affected the result of the race then the interferer is placed behind the sufferer irrespective of whether the sufferer would have finished in front of the interferer had the incident(s) not occurred."
Category 1 states "If, in the opinion of the Staging Authority's relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but irrespective of the incident(s) the sufferer would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the judge's placings will remain unaltered."
Part of the TIF's argument to change the Category is this year's Personal Ensign (G1) where ABEL TASMAN and ELATE battled through the stretch. Abel Tasman was left up as the winner after contact was clearly made in the deep stretch and it became another "Rohrschach Test" for horse racing. Many thought that Abel Tasman should have come down and many felt that the result should stand.
Before I even attempt to decide whether the Personal Ensign would have been adjudicated any differently if it were run under the Category 1 philosophy, allow me to introduce a crucial piece of evidence that was left out of the TIF's report and the voices of outrage that it quoted.
Regardless of Category 2 or 1, the stewards NEVER posted the "Inquiry" sign after the race. It was only after Jose Ortiz, rider of Elate, filed a jockey objection that the race was under review. No matter what the category being used, it would not have mattered had Ortiz not filed his objection.
Now, fast forward to this year's Cotillion (G1). There was an erratic stretch run which resulted in MONOMOY GIRL being disqualified and MIDNIGHT BISOU placed first. With a completely different set of stewards, the same process happened. The stewards NEVER posted the "Inquiry" sign and the result would have stood had Mike Smith, rider of Midnight Bisou, not claimed foul against Florent Geroux, rider of Monomoy Girl.
So, two of the TIF's examples of why Category 1 should be implemented prove that adding another layer of discretion at the feet of the stewards might not be such a good idea since neither group of stewards found any interference had occurred in the first place.
I agree with the TIF's premise that moving to Category 1 would result in fewer disqualifications but I don't see why that needs to be an attainable goal. In two major races with huge implications, two different sets of stewards did not see any interference. The last thing I think we need is for stewards to have in their consciousness how many inquiries they have posted in a given day of racing. Until we get things corrected, I think it's valuable for them to post an inquiry in every race they deem worth looking at.
1. Why are certain incidents not worthy of posting an inquiry when we can see something happened?
2. With video technology improving, why does it take so long to make the decision?
3. Why do stewards bother to talk to the riders? I have yet to see one confess and unless all language advantages and disadvantages are evened out, it doesn't give the bettors any more confidence in the process.
The issue of what is a foul and what is not needs to be narrowed down and better defined so that, no matter what Category is used, the stewards have a better starting point which will give the bettors a higher degree of confidence.
When races like the Personal Ensign and Cotillion are conducted with obvious incidents and there are not even stewards' inquiries, what do you think our confidence level will be with a decision made by people that were going to let the original results stand until the riders filed their objections?
For me personally, I am of the "A foul is a foul" school of thought. It makes the game safer for the horses and their riders and, if enforced unilaterally, we would probably have fewer fouls to call. I am not saying that we should go to the recent example of the Victoria Racing Club giving Hugh Bowman 41 days for his ride in this year's Melbourne Cup (G1), but a sterner system of fines and punishments might work so the riders know there are serious consequences for their actions.
(Adam Coglianese Photography)