Every sport now, or so it seems, has a process where officials, referees, umpires, and those that make split second decisions on the field of play are reviewed. Instant replay has become consistent review. But, in reality and often times, within minutes, the original and initial decisions are ultimately overturned by a panel of judges in favor of what is supposed to be the “right decision.”
You can debate whether or not the “right decision” is the “right decision,” but you can’t deny that all major sports have developed a way to review, measure, and decide important decisions. It is their way of assuring to the participants and the fans that the “right call” is, in fact, the “right call.”
It is high time that Thoroughbred racing adopts a similar system. Especially in light of another Steward’s call — that some would call horrendous (like my good friend, trainer Dale Romans, and me) — on Monday in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at one of the world’s most renown and noted racing venues, Saratoga.
Despite the fact that the ultimate winner of the Hopeful, Sporting Chance, veered sharply nearing the finish line, causing commotion behind him and causing his fast-closing adversary, Free Drop Bill, to alter his course to the inside, the Stewards decided to do nothing. Despite the fact that Free Drop Bill’s rider, Robby Albarado, claimed he was compromised by the leader’s antics, the Stewards decided to do nothing. Despite the fact that the same group of Stewards had decided to take action and demote a horse earlier in the same card and on the same day (No Hiding Place, trained by Steve Asmussen, was disqualified from 1st to 4th for alleged interference at the 1/16th pole) for what appeared to be no worse, the Stewards decided to do nothing.
And, that left the fans and the participants with exactly the same recourse for complaint or challenge. They could do nothing.
It is high time that Thoroughbred racing does something.
In fact, for those of us who have to suffer through current inquiries, rider’s objections, trainer’s claim of foul and the ultimate Steward’s decisions — that are, let’s say, “inconsistent,” to be nice — it is way, way, way past time.
In short, if Thoroughbred racing is to ever gain the full trust of those who of us that ultimately make the churn of this sport turn — the bettors — then Stewards’ decisions must be reviewable. Right then. Right there. And if — in the view of an arbitrary panel — the original call seems to be inaccurate and the review panel deems to overturn the Steward’s call, then it must be over-ridden with a final judgment.
Enough is way too much.
And, the fix is relatively easy enough to accomplish — if the sport wants to take the next and necessary step to assure the betting public and all racing participants that it has fairness, and, ultimately, the right decisions in mind.
This is what I propose:
In coordination and combination, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association should jointly issue the following edict to all tracks that wish to host a Graded Stakes race:
In order for the race to be graded by the TOBA — which is the sanctioning body that determines which races achieve that the lofty status of a Graded Stakes race — then the host track SHALL agree that a “Review Panel” of three highly qualified “Super Stewards,” who are sequestered into one location for the purpose of reviewing all Graded Stakes races, can be utilized to immediately review any on-track Stewards call on any incident that happens before, during and after each such Graded stakes race.
The “Review Panel” will not take any action whatsoever, unless there is an initial Steward’s Inquiry, or any other claim of foul during the normal course of running the race.
But, the “challenge” of the on-track Steward’s call — in this Graded Stakes event — can be initiated by any of the following:
- A participant’s trainer, rider and/or owner, who thinks that they were compromised by an action of another horse during the running of the Graded Stakes event.
- A select group of three bettors — chosen by the host racetrack and before the Graded Stakes event.
- And/or by the “Super Stewards” themselves.
The decision of the “Super Stewards” SHALL not take longer than 3 minutes to be issued, since they can be reviewing any original inquiry at the same time as the on-track Stewards. And, the decision of the “Super Stewards” SHALL be final and binding.
The TOBA and the NTRA have the power and the finances to make this happen, if they would take the initiative to improve a current system that is flawed by inconsistency from racing jurisdiction to racing jurisdiction, but also from race to race at the same licensed facility; by radical decisions — and non-decisions — that appear to be weighted more in opinion than in fact; by any lack of established credentials and standards that are not published anywhere for the bettor or the fan to read and understand.
All of this arbitrary decision-making power — in the hands of people that the racing public cannot see, question or doubt — leads to concerns about the game’s credibility.
Much worse, in my opinion, is the fact that all of this power is not challengeable or subject to immediate appeal that could either reaffirm the Steward’s call, or correct a perceived wrong in time that all are fairly compensated — including the participant’s owner, trainer, rider, and, just as importantly, the bettor.
If you go to the NYRA website (www.nyra.com), you will find a link under the “Racing” button for “Stewards Decisions.” It is supposed to be the location where you can go to get detailed reasoning from the Stewards on why they made the decision they did in a certain race. Good idea.
But it hasn’t been updated since July 16, 2017. Are you kidding me?
The game owes more than that to the fan. The fan who comes to the races and invests their money — not only on the horse; but also the system of fairness.
Sometimes the horse may let a bettor down. But the system should never.