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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Stop DQs for Technical Violations?

North of the border in Ontario, the ORC has modified a decision made by the judges at Rideau Carleton Raceway against Yves Fillion with regard to a violation of the urging rules during the running of the seventh race on December 18 (you can watch the replay from Rideau Carleton’s website). While driving Quincy Bayama, the judges determined Fillion whipped the horse with the lines not being in both hands which resulted in the judges disqualifying Quincy Bayama from second and placing him ninth. The judges also fined Fillion $200 and handed him a three day suspension for the drive. Fillion appealed the ruling and as a result of the appeal, the commission modified the penalty. While Fillion was still fined $200 and suspended for the three days, Quincy Bayama was restored to second place. Good for the owners of Quincy Bayama, bad for the bettors who wagered on him and are not able to collect on their wagers.

I must confess, my knee-jerk response was to demand the urging rules be modified to remove the possibility of a disqualification for a violation of the rule. Then, after some reflection, is this any different from a disqualification as a result of alleged interference which is later reversed? The reality is judges are human and they make mistakes, be it in blowing a call or in misinterpreting a rule. This goes far beyond any specific rule; it boils down to how harness racing applies its rules and minimizes the possibility of applying or not applying a rule incorrectly to the detriment of the gambler.

The answer may be how our rules are enforced. I always thought one advantage harness racing had over thoroughbred racing was in its enforcement of the rules. In harness racing, if you interfere with another horse, you are disqualified, no ifs and/or buts. In thoroughbred racing, if you interfere, you are disqualified only if you impede the progress of the horse you fouled or otherwise impact the race finish. Commit a foul that does not impact the outcome of a race? The stewards will deal with you in the morning. In hindsight, perhaps the runners have it right. Why penalize the gambler for an infraction the driver committed if it has no impact on the eventual outcome of the race?

In the case of the race in question in the Fillion ruling, the violation of the whipping rule had no impact in the final outcome of the race (what appeared to have happened was Fillion accidently dropped the line from one hand for a moment while using the whip; he did not drive one handed); he did not improve his finishing position nor would the third place finisher have caught him. If we applied our rules using the runner’s standard as to whether or not the infraction changed the outcome of the race, there would have been no disqualification and the judges could have addressed the violation of the rules afterwards without penalizing the gamblers.

Years ago in a NYSS race at Monticello Raceway, Clint Galbraith was on a horse that won by twenty lengths. It turns out on the final turn, Galbraith passed a tiring horse but came back in a little too quick, technically interfering with a horse that was quitting badly. Galbraith’s mount was disqualified despite the fact it did not impact the outcome of the race, but whose interest was protected by this disqualification? Certainly not the gambler’s; you could debate if the horsemen’s interests were protected as well.

With a new standard as to when a disqualification may be appropriate, penalties may need to be toughened up so drivers don’t profit as a result of not being disqualified. I am not suggesting we don’t enforce rules, but we don’t serve our customers or our participants when there is a placing for a technical violation which does not change the outcome of the actual race.

Hats off to Rideau Carleton Raceway in general, and track announcer Norm Borg in particular for the way they handled the inquiry regarding the Quincy Bayama race. Norm’s professionalism and Rideau’s handling of the inquiry was the direct opposite of how a similar situation was handled at Windsor Raceway. At least at Rideau, the gamblers know what was going on.

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