I witnessed a robbery yesterday.
Not the kind involving weapons or ski masks or a W-4 form, but a robbery nonetheless.
It occurred in the sixth race at Thistledown, where the horse that crossed the wire first — by 1 ¾ widening lengths, mind you — was taken down for interference in the stretch… even though he had nothing to do with the incident.
How can that be, you ask?
Well, it just so happens that Game Over was coupled in the wagering with Chromium, a horse that had last raced for a $5,000 claiming tag and was now in against allowance foes like his stablemate (who was second in last year’s Grade 3 West Virginia Derby). And, leaving the turn for home, Chromium ducked in, repeatedly making contact with Classic Mo, who had drifted out a bit.
Hence, after an inquiry so long I felt it should’ve featured a halftime show, the stewards ruled that Game Over be placed behind Classic Mo. Case closed, race official.
Here’s my problem: The ruling was fair — both Game Over and Chromium are owned by Loooch Racing Stables and the race was a classic example of why entries exist in the first place. But there simply must be greater protection for the wagering public. Only a total racing newbie could possibly believe that Classic Mo was going to catch Game Over, who, as I noted previously, was drawing clear as the wire approached.
In some racing jurisdictions, like California (in races not involving Bayern), this is the primary criterion that is used to determine whether a horse is disqualified or not — did the infraction cost the impeded horse a better placing? In this case, the answer to that question is clearly no. (I tried to reach the Thistledown racing office to get clarification on the rules in Ohio, but after about 10 minutes of listening to hold music that sounded like it came from a 1970s porn flick, I gave up.)
Even though such a standard makes disqualifications very subjective — one of the problems in the Bayern incident was that, because it happened so early, it was impossible to tell what horses were materially affected — it is far more fair to bettors than the travesty that occurred at Thistledown on Monday.
Now, for those of you who argue that a foul is a foul and the guilty horse should be taken down regardless (I can hear you even over that awful Thistledown hold music), I would counter that such is not regularly the case anywhere and there simply must be consistency in rulings of this nature.
For instance, all drug infractions involve penalties and purse redistributions after the fact. And there have been even more egregious rulings over the years. On Sept. 10, 2011, in the seventh and final race of the day at Kentucky Downs, Heiden was placed fourth, even though he had finished a nose behind the actual fourth-place finisher, Night Party.
Following a review, the race order was corrected and the owners got their proper purse money, as did the jockeys and trainers.
The bettors, on the other hand, got a formal statement from Kentucky Downs President Corey Johnsen — three days after the race.
“We deeply regret the error that was made by a placing judge who incorrectly called the fourth-place finisher in the race,” Johnsen said. “Since learning of the error, we have completed a detailed review of the procedures by which our racing officials work with the stewards to ensure that all race placings are correct and fully verified prior to a race being made official.
“Once the results of this race had been made official, Kentucky Downs followed the rules and regulations set forth by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in executing pari-mutuel payoffs to the letter,” Johnsen continued. “Unlike sports wagering in Nevada, where individual casinos and sports books may have different sets of ‘house rules’ dealing with changes to final scores of games and how those changes affect wager payoffs, the pari-mutuel rules in Kentucky are crystal clear. While we understand that players who may have had winning superfecta tickets would be frustrated by this incident, we adhered to the rules and regulations and made all payoffs once the race had been made official.”
Well, that’s great. As long as the rules were followed, who cares if some bettors got screwed? I’m sure most of them were simply relieved that everybody else got paid what they deserved. (By the way, no Kentucky Downs employees were formally reprimanded or disciplined in any way, according to the Paulick Report.)
Look, if I sound exasperated, it’s because I am. I just don’t get why racing officials don’t understand how some of these rulings look to outsiders, especially new fans. How many track newcomers who bet the 1-5 “sure-thing” entry at Thistledown on Monday will be anxious to come back? It’s not the money, it’s the principle.
In cases like this, the order needs to be left alone. Any purse redistribution or fines should be sorted out later.
It’s time for horse racing to finally put bettors first… or continue to watch the exodus to other, fairer forms of gambling.