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Friday, March 26, 2010

Judges' Explanations, Penalty Surcharge

Big steps are being taken into Ontario to make the judges more accessible to the racing public by having them explain their decisions.  In a pilot program announced by the Ontario Racing Commission, Standardbred Canada will be having a weekly feature on their website called "From the Stand" where the judges will discuss a call made at Flamboro Downs or Woodbine which has or may have attracted attention from the gambling public; explaining the factors that were taken into account in making a particular decision. 

The second part of this trial, and clearly the most significant part of the pilot, is the decision to have the judges/stewards at Woodbine explain their decisions to the wagering public when a violation occurres.  Not only will they explain what the violation was, the judges will identify who was involved.  This is a vast improvement over having the track announcer announce that a horse was disqualified for violation of a specific rule.

It is about time racing realizes the customers (fans/gamblers) deserve to know the specifics as to why a decision was made to disqualify a horse.  After all, if a gamblers is holding a winning trifecta ticket, doesn't he/she deserve to know why their winning ticket is about to become worthless?  The one change to the ORC pilot program I would make is in the event an inquiry (or rare objection) and it is determined there is no reason for a placing to take place; the judges/stewards should explain why the decision was made to leave the finish 'as is'. Knowing why no disqualification is taking place is just as important as to knowing why a DQ occurs.  After all, doesn't the wagering public deserve to know the judges are protecting their interests?    

Here is hoping this pilot program becomes permanent and expanded to all tracks in North America.  The people who support the sport deserve this.

So what redress does a gambler have when a driver commits a foul and gets disqualified, costing a gambler a winning wager? None. Shouldn't there be some type of redress in this type of situation? The judges should be able to assess bigger fines and suspensions when a driver gets disqualified which results in a change in the mutual pay-offs. One way this could be accomplished is by changing the fine/suspension schedule to require a penalty be surcharged in the event of such a situation occurring. Interfere with a horse in the stretch and get disqualified from first to third (or out of the money)? Add a surcharge of $500 and/or five day suspension for committing the foul which changed the mutuel results. Of course, this surcharge would not apply for lapped on breaks or a situation where a driver was forced inside of the pylons; it would only apply when a driver is found to have been negligent. This will not make a gambler happier when their winning ticket became worthless, but at least it would show the gambler the industry takes such infractions seriously.

Earlier this year we discussed the possibility of indexing fines so a fine would have meaning to a driver or trainer. After all, fining a driver a $100 when he earns less than $25,000 a year driving may have an impact whereas fining a driver that makes $200,000 a year the same amount is merely a cost of doing business. Fines and suspensions need to be a deterrent. In the same vein, how many states have not adjusted their penalties since VLTs came to them? A $100 fine when your average purse was $4,500 is one thing but does the same fine have the same impact when you are now racing for an average purse of $10,000? I would suggest racing commissions go back and revisit their fines and suspensions so the penalties mean something.

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