One of the features of the Paulick Report website for most of the last 10 years is something called “Ask Ray,” when readers can click a button and send me a question or comment. I also put my cell phone number on the site and hear from a lot of people because of that. I do my best to respond to all inquiries.
The No. 1 topic I hear about, without question, is officiating.
“Did you see the third race at Seeyoulater Downs last night?” a typical reader will write. “The stewards obviously had a big bet on the runner-up. That’s the only reason they disqualified the winner.”
When I get an email or call like this, I’ll watch the replay of the race, including the patrol films the stewards use to make their decision. I’ll write or call back and tell the fan what I thought and explain, to the best of my knowledge, the rules regarding disqualifications. For example, there can be obvious interference, but if it didn’t alter the outcome of the race, stewards will generally leave the original order of finish. That can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, which is confounding to everyone, from jockeys and trainers to fans. Racing needs to get its act together and operate under one set of rules throughout North America.
Usually, though not always, I’ll agree with the decision the stewards make when they deliberate whether or not to take down a horse’s number. When I convey my opinion to someone who’s contacted me about a stewards decision, I usually get a polite thank you for the explanation. Occasionally, however, I’ll get some pushback.
“You’re as blind as they are!” a caller once told me.
In cases like that, I’ll ask the caller if they had a wager riding on the outcome of the race and the stewards’ inquiry. In almost every instance, the answer is “yes.”
Which is why stewards are not allowed to bet and horseplayers are not allowed to decide the outcome of inquiries or objections.
My favorite caller is the photo finish conspiracy complaint. “’They’ put up the wrong numbers because ‘they’ had a bet on the horse that finished second,” the message usually goes. “And ‘they’ didn’t want anyone to see the photo so ‘they’ didn’t post it.”
“They” is usually everyone but the person who feels he got the shaft. These complaints would be a lot easier to respond to if all tracks posted photo finishes on their websites, since upwards of 90 per cent of wagering now takes place away from the track where the race is being run. But even that won’t satisfy everyone.
In the pre-digital photograph era, photo finishes were posted behind glass on bulletin boards around the track. Fans with losing tickets in their hands would put their noses up against the glass, squint and scream, “They shaved off my horse’s nose!”
Photo finishes now are shown on television monitors after a race (or at least they should be).
Those same horseplayers now say the digital photo finish camera operator merely moves the finish line an inch to the right or left as he or she pleases so they can decide who should win.
Of course, that can’t and doesn’t happen but that doesn’t stop the conspiracies.
It’s not just stewards or placing judges who are “out to get” the downtrodden horseplayer. Let’s not forget the role jockeys and trainers play. I hear these theories all the time.
Jockeys either a) set too fast of a pace on horses who get tired and are passed in the stretch or b) gave their horse too much to do when they sit off the pace and can’t close on the front-runners. Sometimes they go too wide and sometimes they get stopped in traffic when they try to save ground. There is no in between – unless they win.
Trainers have to follow the Goldilocks rule to avoid criticism from fans. If they’re too hot, they must be doing something illegal to maintain such a high winning percentage. If they’re too cold, they’ve either lost their touch or are setting things up for a big score that the unknowing horseplayer will never be part of.