NO GOOD DEED SHALL GO UNPUNISHEDNO GOOD DEED SHALL GO UNPUNISHED
No Good Deed Shall Go Unpunished
By Michael Amo for ThoroFan
Fans are regularly bewildered when immediately after a race the word “Inquiry” mysteriously appears on the tote board and/or television screen. In baritone decibels the announcer proclaims, “There is a Stewards’ Inquiry. Hold all tickets until the race is made official.” What?
Squeezing tickets firmly hoping to influence the stewards’ decision, fans wait breathlessly---some wanting the results to stay as posted, while others pray for a minor adjustment that will give them a “live pari-mutual ticket.” Although the decision is made in minutes, the time frame seems like an eternity.
As the time advances, “amateur stewards” begin to analyze the race as it is shown in replay format. From both head-on and side angles the race is replayed. The infraction in question is highlighted for all to see. What will the Stewards think? What action will they take?
Until this summer at New York Racing Association operated tracks, the analysis of the stewards was a well kept secret. Fans were left to guess and speculate. Usually, dissatisfied, fans would grumble and allude to a “fix.” Of course ‘they’ would not penalize the leading jockey or trainer. Of course ‘they’ wouldn’t deny a top owner of purse money unless forced. This is an insider’s game and the fans are left out, always, might be their delusional muse.
A year ago, Dr. Ted Hill, Steward for the Jockey Club at NYRA tracks, was candid when asked about the mystery of the “steward process.” They would like to be more open but there were legal and media concerns he suggested. After all, stewards are trained to adjudicate not to pontificate. However, he felt that would change. Stewards were learning better ways to explain the process of decision making to the press and the public, so fans know, exactly how inquiry decisions are made. In July NYRA took the first step and required steward to display publicly the reasons behind their decisions. End of controversy.
Not so fast. On August 2nd in the 5th race at Saratoga Race Course, Pelican Lake appeared to plow her way to better than a length victory. The “Inquiry Sign” flashed. Much to the amazement of the crowd the sign disappeared and the race was made official. How could that be?
The steward’s explanation followed on the screen. The bumping didn’t affect the outcome of the race. Their public analysis, demanded by fans for years, was ridiculed by most every ‘expert’ in the press box and beyond.
Acknowledging the press’s right to criticize, lets be fair to the stewards who are only trying to give everyone what they want, “more transparency.” Before NYRA’s new policy all fans would have been left to wonder how and why the stewards made their decision regarding this incident.
Knowing and agreeing are different constructs. The public comments by the stewards should be applauded and encouraged, not ridiculed. If we are too harsh, the result might be a return to silence from the Stewards box or worse, obtuse explanations that shield them from criticism.
Fans and press can and will have opinions about decisions made by the stewards, that’s for sure. But personalizing the attack against the stewards because they disagree with the decision is counterproductive to improving our sport. We all want more integrity and transparency. The tarnished image of horseracing held by so many in the public serves only to increase the speed at which the industry is spiraling downward.
We all know what a wonderful sport Thoroughbred racing is. Let’s show it. Let’s praise the stewards for their new actions, whether we agree or disagree (the decision, is after all, theirs), and not punish them for their intended good deed.