Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association, Inc.



Stewards Need to Be More Transparent

 We have all experienced the tense wait for the Stewards’ decision following the posting of an Inquiry Sign. Whether the Inquiry affects a personal wager, or we are just interested in the outcome of the inquiry anxiety rises like when a judge is offering a decision on traffic infraction. Our emotions are on display. Such was the case for two occasions at Saratoga Racecourse, one last week and one this past Wednesday. They both occurred in the last race of the day and included each of the Ortiz brothers. The first affected Irad and the second Jose. Each riding a horse that appeared to impede another horse in the stretch. After a lengthy wait while watching the replay of the races that included the alleged infraction, the announcer said “there would be no changes”. The crowd gasped like they had seen a murder. Results and payoffs were listed. The day of racing ended as fans left the track with too many questions and their opinions about why the Stewards’ decision was the way it was. Social media percolated with uninformed opinions and derogatory comments about our sport. Not necessary.

The Stewards at racetracks must make quick decisions about the outcome of a race with many horses competing where one or more behaved badly. Training for people to qualify as Stewards is rigorous and includes annual continuing educational requirements. They are professionals at the highest level of our sport. Yet, they can make mistakes, as anyone can. Understandable that analysis of Inquiry decisions takes time. They must be sure they have considered everything and found consensus. That is not the problem before us today. The problem is communication with racing fans to avoid misinterpretation and false conclusions about our sport by the fans.

This is not a wagering issue, although some may think so. On the surface any decision the Stewards make can financially affect horse players with a large amount of money to be lost or won. This is not the problem. Anyone who places a wager knows the risk or shouldn’t be gambling on horse racing. Even so emotions can run high when wagers are on the line.

 However, the Stewards’ decision impacts many others. Certainly, the owner has at risk the share of the purse money. She also has a breeding stock reputation at stake, as well as an ego impact. Missing an opportunity to have her picture taken in the Winner’s Circle denies the pride to be shared with friends for years. I can remember my first and only win at Saratoga with a horse I owned in a partnership. I still have the photo in my office and smile with every glance. It was an emotional bucket list event for me on that warm afternoon at the SPA.

The trainer has more than a training relationship to a win or a loss. A trainer with a losing record published in the past performances is less attractive to potential new clients, especially if his record is at the bottom of the trainers’ list for the meet. The Stewards’ decision can make or break a barn and the livelihood of a trainer. It has a direct emotional connection to the outcome of a race. 

The groom and barn staff have a special connection to the horse they care for around the clock and are entered in races. It is the marker of their work and is taken personally by them. You only have to watch them lead their horse back to the barn for cooling and bathing to see. With the horse just left the Winner’s Circle there is a noticeable bounce in staff’s step that is void of those who walked before them and lost. They care for and are proud of their horse. Their families care. Most are “staked” by the trainer or owner after their horse returns to the barn from winning a race. It is impossible to disconnect their feelings for their horse and its performance on the track. 

So, when an Inquiry is posted by the Stewards many peoples’ hearts beat a little faster. When the Stewards’ decision is announced the feeling hits home. Anger directed at jockeys, trainers or Stewards can implode. Everyone wants to know how the Stewards made their decision and why. Failure to get an answer only compounds the problem. From this comes hyperbole and false accusations and conspiracy theories. Eventually it erodes the faith people have in our sport. It is much more important than who won the race. Stewards have a responsibility to make the right call using the standards adopted by their state (HISA). Yet they also have the responsibility to protect fans and our sport from the collateral damage an inquiry decision can have.

The New York Racing Association’s website has a Stewards’ Corner where they explain the process used in Stewards’ decision making ---applaudable, but out of date. The last entry was for the 10th Sunday, September 4th, 2022. The New York State Gaming Commission which oversees racing in New York has an extensive list of rules for Thoroughbred horse racing. A cursory review of them shows no mention of the responsibility to explain to the public/fan how they arrived at an inquiry decision. A similar review of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority’s rules and regulations does not address any requirement where Stewards’ decision be made public. In New York this leaves fans without any explanation of the decision making about an inquiry, either immediately or in a set period. This is counterproductive to sport and needs to be addressed. 

ThoroFan calls out the regulators and leaders of our sport to make available an accredited Steward to participate in a video education program in New York that explains the processes whereby Stewards adjudicate a race inquiry call.