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Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Men Behind the Curtain

It's puzzling to me.

Back a couple weeks ago, Winston from Gathering the Wind had an excellent post titled with another word I had to look up (stochastics) regarding horse racing stewards and how they are simply out of the public eye. This being unlike the big four, wherein the referees or umpires must make a call in plain view and in the case of hockey and football are miked to explain the foul or decision at hand. This is especially evident in NFL instant replay situations wherein a challenge is made by a coach, the referee looks at the replays and talks to the booth upstairs and then informs the crowd and television network of the call and the basis for it (sometimes even citing the rule book).

John Pricci also was torqued up about it this summer after the sting of being disqualified out of three investment wagers by the stewards on the same day!! He went on to write:

"Whenever a disqualification occurs, a written explanation should be made public. Such transparency is something that many segments of the racing media have been imploring the tracks to do for years. The problems facing the game, as everyone knows, are myriad. This is an easy one to fix, but nobody will step up and do the right thing. The majority of Mother Goose betting public lost about a half-million dollars on a bad call."

Pricci went on in his post to blast the New York State Racing & Wagering Board (ala Steve Crist) and we've heard nothing since then. After a little digging I found that in Australia, the stewards file written reports made public daily. Here is an example from today (!) from Gosford Racecourse. That would seem to be step one to eliminate the transparency and provide some accountability by reporting the decisions made during the day's card in a written format.

Another idea would be to take a page from the NFL, and when an inquiry is made that it is first disclosed to the fans and broadcast/simulcast viewership by the stewards (who made the inquiry and what it was) and then the decision be announced disclosing the reason for either ignoring the inquiry or for taking down the horse(s) in question. The decision would be clear to all in attendance as to the reason and wouldn't be the mystery that it is now.

It would be a start for the regulators to start including it on their agendas, as it has been something that seems to be brought up every time there is a questionable decision and is brewing in the horseplayer ranks. It would be best to give the accountability some consideration before something happens in a really big race (see Breeders Cup or Triple Crown race), which is usually what it takes before something changes.

Thanks to all who commented on the post I co-authored with Patrick over at The Blood-Horse yesterday, it was fun to write and stirred up quite a hornet's nest. Keep an eye out over there, a lot of the TBA's finest will be posting up to and through the Breeders' Cup.


Wind Gatherer said...

It is always the simple things that people are unwilling to implement.

I think that the lack of uniform jurisdiction is one reason (not a good one) this is not done.

Thanks for the link.

Got your casino money?

George said...

Nice post. Perhaps a good start would be to have a decision included with the full charts.It may still leave some mad as hell at a ruling but at least some understanding of the decision may be gleaned. And if the decisions were printed, over time it would likely lead to more uniformity in decisions.

John Wooden said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see what's so "puzzling". When there's an inquiry the portion of the race being reviewed is almost always shown on the screen for all to see. If the stewards don't take the horse down, obviously they don't think there was a foul, if they do, then obviously they think there was. Other sports you reference make the calls (or not) as the game is in progress. None of the officals come out after the game is over and explain why there was holding on a particular play that got called back or why they didn't call the runner out at first base, when everyone in the stadium thinks he was out...this is a non-issue to me

Anonymous said...

Winston: Agreed on the lack of uniform jurisdiction. Casino cash in hand for next weekend.

George: Thanks for the comment and a good point/idea to include the decision in the charts.

Coach: For a guy who used to give that vicious staredown to the referees I'm surprised at your reaction!?

Seriously, of course it is obvious to some why a decision is made, but written notes and disclosures (or even a chart note as George states above) would provide the discussions with the jockeys involved etc. And do you really know when a horse is taken down more than one spot why that is? The puzzling thing is, what information is there that can't be made public?

PS Loved your book.

John Wooden said...


Thanks for reading! My point is NO other sport has their officials come out after the game, match, etc is over and "explain" why they made a particular call. The ref that gave Dallas the stanley cup over your Sabres ever come out and explain why it they permitted Hull's goal?? How about the no-call when Jordan pushed off Byron to win the NBA championship. Or the botched coin flip in the Steeler game some years ago. Any of those refs come out and explain to the public? Don't expect Horse Racing to lead the way - they never do

SaratogaSpa said...

The NFL reviews all calls and any questionable call usually gets a public explanation given by the NFL Office and released every tuesday in the form of a press release or statement.

They also of course have detailed injury reports which I would love the racing industry to make some variation of.


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