Is a foul a foul?
By Bill Heller
Four and a half years and 2,071 miles apart, stewards on opposite sides of the nation faced a similar dilemma: whether or not interference in two of the most important races in the world—the $5 million 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita and the 2019 $3 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs—had occurred, and if it had, whether or not that justified the disqualification of the winning horse.
Wouldn’t it have been great if both sets of stewards had uniform rules to help make those incredibly difficult decisions affecting all the horses’ connections as well as millions of bettors and fans around the world?
Horse racing in North America having uniform rules would be a dream come true. Different rules in different states is an ongoing nightmare. “It’s a joke,” said Bennet Liebman, a former member of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board from 1988 through 2000, who is currently the government lawyer in residence at the Albany Law School. “It’s a freaking joke.”
Other than North America, racing jurisdictions around the world use Category 1 rules on interference that mandates a disqualification only if the horse who committed the foul gained from the interference. Penalties are severe for jockeys who commit a foul resulting in a disqualification: suspensions and fines which increase with repeated infractions.
North America is in Category 2, which mandates disqualification only if the interference “in the opinion of the stewards” affected the order of finish or compromised the fouled horse’s chances of a better placing. Different language, terms and standards within those individual states’ rules make it even more confusing.
Japan, which switched from Category 2 to 1 in 2013, saw a drastic reduction from 143 inquires in 2012 to 25 in 2013. In 2017, there were only nine inquiries.
The catalyst for Japan’s decision came after a controversial disqualification in one of its most cherished races, the 2010 Japan Cup. The popular favorite in the race, Buena Vista, won by two lengths but was disqualified and placed second because the stewards ruled that she had shifted in and cost Rose Kingdom a chance at a better placing,
Kim Kelly, chief steward of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) Harmonization Rules Committee, spoke about the effect of that disqualification at the International Conference of Horseracing Authorities in Paris on October 8, 2018: “The demotion of Buena Vista caused considerable consternation both within Japan and internationally as the horse which was overwhelmingly the best on the day was placed behind a horse which was demonstrably inferior. Even the trainer of the horse which was elevated to the winner of the race was quoted as saying that he had `mixed feelings’ about the result.”
Kelly continued, “The silver lining to what clearly was a less than ideal outcome was that the Japan Racing Association reacted positively to the international comment on the result by seeking assistance of the Harmonization Committee in changing to the Category 1 philosophy. It is indisputable that had Category 1 been in operation in Japan in 2010 then Buena Vista would have rightfully retained the race. The decision of the Japanese Racing Association to change to Category 1 was a brave one for which they deserve tremendous credit. To recognize that change was necessary and in the best interests of the sport, and to completely change a racing interference culture dating back decades was a significant moment for the JRA.”
More recently, both France and Germany, the last two European countries using Category 2, switched to Category 1 at the beginning of their 2018 seasons. They were followed by Panama, the last country in Latin America using Category 2, which switched to Category 1 in September 2018.
“Since January 1, 2019, North America is the only racing jurisdiction using Category 2,” Cathy O’Meara, program coordinator for the Racing Officials Accreditation Program, said.
But in reality, both categories have their deficiencies. “Category 1 makes for easy decisions, but it seems like anything goes,” Liebman said. “If I cut somebody off and it costs him one length, no big deal. They’re not going to take me down. I think our system doesn’t go far enough, and theirs see seem to go too far. Our system is so confusing affecting the outcome. It was easier when a foul was always a foul.”
That didn’t prevent a major controversy in 2002 which ultimately led to a change in New York’s racing rules. On August 19 at Saratoga, Silver Squire and his jockey Richard Migliore came in slightly in mid-stretch on the way to a 5 ¾ length victory. Just four days earlier, Migliore rode Doc’s Doll when she finished second after being bumped by the winner Roses for Sonja. “They posted the inquiry sign but left the number up because they said it didn’t affect the outcome,” Migliore said. He expected a similar result with Silver Squire. The official chart of the race said Silver Squire “lugged in a bit while blowing by the leaders.” Regardless, the stewards disqualified Silver Squire. Migliore ripped a phone out of the wall in the jockey’s room, got dressed and took off the rest of his mounts, actions which prompted a $2,000 fine.
Dr. Ted Hill, one of the three stewards along with John Joyce and David Hicks who collectively voted to disqualify Silver Squire, empathized with Migliore. “That was a tough pill to swallow,” Hill said last month. Hill, a former chief examining veterinarian at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga, was a New York Racing Association steward from 1996 through 2015.
Both Hill and Liebman said that race was a catalyst in changing the New York State rule on interference in 2004 to say a horse may be disqualified “if the foul altered the finish of the race” or “if he interferes with, impedes or intimidates another horse.”
Liebman said, “The rule was rewritten very badly. It reads very strangely. The point of it was now you take into consideration whether it affects a position. How do you determine that?”
That’s a decision stewards in each state must make based on its state’s rules, definitions and terms, which vary from state to state across the country. Sixteen years after Silver Squire’s disqualification at Saratoga, Daily Racing Form handicapper Mike Watchmaker wrote this of the 2018 Saratoga meet: “It is not hyperbole to suggest the inconsistency from the stewards at Saratoga meet was among the worst ever seen. It’s not even a stretch to make that claim. It’s a valid position. Forget about the demonstrable evidence that what was a foul one day was not another day. No one knew from race to race what an actionable foul was. If felt like the goalposts were always moving.”
The NFL didn’t have that problem, but it took a lot of criticism this year when a controversial non-call of pass interference at the end of the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams game resulted in a Rams’ victory in the NFC Championship Game January 20. Can anyone imagine the bedlam that would have ensued if there had been different rules about pass interference in Louisiana and in California—that it was not a penalty in Louisiana where the game was played, but is a penalty in California?
“We need to determine which philosophy we want and uniformly have Category 1 or Category 2 rules,” O’Meara said. “Now is the time to deal with it.”
How did the stewards deal with those two decisions in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic and this year’s 2019 Kentucky Derby?
In 2014, the speedster Bayern went from the seven post. On his immediate inside in post six was Shared Belief, the undefeated favorite. In the four post was Moreno, a longshot speedball.
At the start, Bayern immediately veered inward, slamming Shared Belief hard enough to create a chain reaction, which affected both the horse in post five, V.E. Day, and Moreno. The incident was so blatant that the track announcer called it live, saying Bayern “may have impeded” other horses…
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