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Monday, November 03, 2014

BC Classic Cheating

I finally got around to watching the Classic on DVR on Sunday morning without knowing the result. That effectively gave me about 13 hours of additional hope that I'd cash a ticket before sitting down to watch the three horses that I probably liked the least battle it out to the wire.  It was a thrilling three-horse stretch duel that was somewhat reminiscent of the very first Classic.  Except that one had better horses, wasn't preceded by an overwrought performance of a horrible song; and Tom Durkin's race call still brings chills all these years later.

And the '84 Classic didn't feature this kind of controversy either.  Andrew Beyer, in defending the stewards' decision to let the result stand despite Bayern "[causing] interference to the horses directly to his inside" (and those are Trevor Denman's very words in his on-track explanation of the stewards' decision), writes that the stewards were right to avoid marring it with a disqualification.  But the race was equally marred by their lack of action.  This race was going to have an asterisk attached in the minds of many horseplayers and fans the moment that Bayern came out of the gate running sideways.

We hear that "thousands" of horses veer in or out at the break, and that the stewards cannot become involved in all of them.  I'd agree with that.  This didn't seem like a typical case though.  We see horses bobble or veer in and out and take another horse or two with them all the time.  In this case though, Bayern and jockey Martin Garcia came out of the gate running in a straight (diagonal) line towards the rail right from the start despite no apparent misstep or mishap, and no history of having done so in the past.  We're told by Beyer that Garcia "got control of Bayern almost immediately," but I don't see it that way; not at all.  Looks to me like he kept going left even as the mayhem he was causing had to have been apparent.  [Shared Belief must be feeling like Obama nowadays; he got slammed from his right in this case (and later by Toast of New York too); got slammed from his left in the Awesome Again to get carried out wide.]

The stewards noted: "in our determination, it didn't happen in the point of a race where it was reasonable to speculate that they didn't finish in a position where they were reasonably expected to finish, which is the language of the rule."  Fair enough; a rule is a rule.  "We're loathe to speculate," they noted.  Indeed, one cannot possibly guess as to whether Bayern would have been beaten had all the horses had a clear shot. But I think the more relevant question in this case is how the incident affected Bayern rather than how it affected the other horses.  It allowed him to run the race the only way he could have in order to win.  Forget Shared Belief; by taking Moreno out of the early running, he assured himself an uncontested lead.  (Of course, that's assuming that Moreno was up to running his usual race without the traffic problems, which one cannot necessarily do either.)

But again, that's not the rule - the mere fact of interference, about which there can be little doubt in this case - is not grounds for a DQ in and of itself, even in a particularly obvious case such as this. Even though it clearly enhanced Bayern's chances to win.  Perhaps the national racing authority all the myriad racing jurisdictions need to take a look at the rule.  Because for a sport which is SO worried about its image in terms of trust by the betting public, one would think it would surely want to avoid situations in which a horse can wipe out its competition at the start and ultimately be rewarded for doing so.  Even if Garcia's actions were not intentional, what is to prevent him or other jockeys from practicing that kind of race riding at the start going forward now that a clear precedent has been established?  Or, more significantly, why wouldn't the betting public now believe that the start of a race is a free-for-all with no rules to protect the horse it bets from foul play, intentional or otherwise?  (And what's to prevent European punters, already suspicious of the American version of the sport, from believing this was a hometown decision in favor of the local trainer over the overseas shipper?) 

I think that an incident like this in a high profile race has the potential to cause far more distrust on the part of the betting public than some trainer getting a 20-day suspension because one of his or her horses in a barn hundreds of miles away tested 2 nanograms over the allowable limit of an otherwise allowable therapeutic medication.  Those trainers are now reviled as 'cheaters' regardless of the intent or lack thereof.  So, how was this not cheating on the part of jockey Garcia? 

Good thing it wasn't the Derby, and only a Breeders' Cup Classic that nobody watched.


El Angelo said...

I do think that Bayern was very lucky that his trainer is based in California and Toast of New York's was foreign.

ljk said...

Agree with you. I don't see where Garcia ever corrected. Straight line from the seven hole to the rail. On the HRTV feed The Mig even says that after the horse broke inward Garcia decided he might as well keep going.
If Moreno is allowed to break, no chance Bayern wins.

Figless said...

Well Bayern did break ahead of Moreno who was off a half step slower anyway, so it is possible he gets this trip anyway, but I am fairly certain the jocks and Moreno and/or SBelief would have been proactive and attacked the slow pace up the backstretch if they had not been compromised. TONY could have come down as well an doesn't seem they stewards even looked at him, so Euro's have no right to complain.

Chrome ran great.

Unknown said...

I think it is understood that horses will not always break straight and that you can't disqualify everybody but I think that it is also understood that a jockey's first responsibility after the break is to straighten his horse. I didn't think Garcia did that and I think Bayern should have came down also Toast Of New York should have came down. One other thought I would sure like to see Shared Belief try Turf.

Anonymous said...

For all the controversy over the non-DQ, the stewards avoided opening an even bigger can of worms.

To wit: If Bayern was disqualified, then Toast of New York also would have been taken down for his interference a bit later in the race. In which case, California Chrome would have been declared the winner...and then the conspiracy theorists would really have come out of the woodwork.