Thoroughbred Idea Foundation: Seeking Transparency

All photos courtesy Alex Evers


While the North American racing industry continues to face a raft of serious issues, there should be little denying the need to present a sport that promotes far greater transparency than it does currently.

Some jurisdictions have a head start over others, but all are in need of massive improvement. A more seriously arranged adjudication arm for racing could build confidence in racing stakeholders, particularly owners and bettors, the lifeblood of the sport.

The case for North America to shift from its existing patchwork-quilt of in-race interference rules, based around the Category 2 interference philosophy, to a more consistent standard based under the Category 1 philosophy was espoused in Saratoga Springs last week at a series of industry meetings.

Mr Kim Kelly, Chief Stipendiary Steward of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Chairman of the International Harmonization of Racing Rules Committee (IHRRC), made the case on behalf of the racing world at the Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing, furthering the call made by the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation in our late 2018 white paper “Changing The Rules.” (CLICK TO READ)

According to the model rule adopted by the vast majority of jurisdictions under the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, the Category 1 philosophy could be summarized as follows – if it cannot be reasonably believed that the horse which suffered interference would have finished in front of the interfering horse if not for the interference, then no change should be made.

The exact language of the model rule states:

“If, in the opinion of the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but irrespective of the incident(s) the sufferer would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the judge’s placings will remain unaltered.

“If, in the opinion of the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with and if not for the incident(s) the sufferer would have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the interferer will be placed immediately behind the sufferer.”

Racing Authorities may, within their Rules, provide for the disqualification of a horse from a race in circumstances in which the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body deems that the rider has ridden in a dangerous manner.”

Adopting Category 1 across North America would yield a sport with a greater understanding of how a race is adjudicated, far fewer instances in which the stewards are called upon to review a race for a potential change, fewer demotions, should be accompanied by an enhanced penalty structure for jockeys guilty of careless riding, and delivers increased confidence for all stakeholders in the adjudication of the race.

At last Friday’s IHRRC meeting in Saratoga, officials from France, Germany and Japan, all jurisdictions to switch from Category 2 to Category 1 in recent years, cited absolutely no regrets in the decision, and re-iterated that they could not imagine returning to the highly flawed Category 2 system.

Regardless of the rules philosophy in place, stewards should be the guardians of transparency for the sport.

Kelly spoke of that need for stewards to lead the cause of transparency as paramount for customer confidence.

“Racing stewards must never be afraid of explaining their decisions to the public or any member of the industry. So long as decisions are properly considered with all of the relevant factors and competing arguments being taken into account and the correct decision arrived at, then those decisions will always be able to be supported in any forum. Transparency is king. Confidence in the stewards is paramount. Confidence lost, everything lost.

The transparent adjudication of racing in North America is a necessity. It does not exist today.

This paper seeks to update the situation of stewarding in North America through the lens of recent events – the Kentucky Derby and the Haskell Invitational.

The 2019 Kentucky Derby

Let there be no mistake.

The decision of the stewards to demote Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby was justified given the rules of racing (below) in Kentucky.

“If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul. If a jockey strikes another horse or jockey, it is a foul. If, in the opinion of the stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, the offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.”

Almost without fail, the stewards must exercise some degree of judgment – it is folly to believe there are always clear cut decisions where racing stakeholders would agree in every circumstance. Some element of subjective judgment enters into the equation before these decisions, again, whether a jurisdiction is using Category 1 or Category 2.

As it relates to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the following steps are achievable in the mind of a steward.

– Maximum Security swerved and impeded other horses. This is a foul.

– It is believable that the horses impacted by the foul would have finished in some different positions – specifically Long Range Toddy – and thus this foul altered the finish of the race.

– Thus, a demotion of Maximum Security is warranted.

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That is simple.

It might not be fair in the minds of those that wagered on a horse that was nearly two lengths clear as a winner of the Kentucky Derby or to the winning owners or breeders of the race. Proponents of the Category 1 philosophy could think the decision was unjust.

But it is simple to at least visualize how such a decision could be achieved given the rules as written, and the long-applied Category 2 rules philosophy in place.

What this does not address, however, is the subsequently uncovered, revealed or apparent elements of the review of the Derby itself which exposed the state of stewarding in North America today. The process involved in the demotion of Maximum Security is symptomatic of a long-ignored problem in North American racing.

The big-picture blame does not reside with the current stewards or regulators, though there were some clear mistakes. These simple and understandable mistakes and oversights, some surely a function of the heat of the moment, are the product of years of neglect in modernizing a system for adjudicating racing, and communicating decisions with regularity to racing stakeholders – something which has become standard operating procedure for the rest of the racing world.

If it can happen in the continent’s premier race, there is every reason to believe these could have occurred with any similar set of stewards adjudicating any North American race.


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