6 July 2010

Horse Racing Needs More Objectivity

There is a lot of subjectivity when it comes to making many rules in laws whether they be in sports or in "real life." For example, in baseball, the rules could easily be 5 balls for a walk, 4 strikes for a strike out where a foul ball on the fourth strike counts as a whiff. Even the size and shape of the strike zone is subjective.

But once the rules are in place, there should be little need for subjectivity by those who enforce the rules, especially in today's day and age with high definition replay abilities and the reality that almost every situation has happened before (when it comes to the major sports, including horse racing).

I started losing interest in baseball when players became loyal to dollars over teams, but what really pushed me over the edge to ignoring baseball was baseball's dissing of modern technology. I remember when the realization hit me, I was at a Blue Jays game sitting directly behind home plate. High enough so that I could see the ball go directly over the plate. The umpire must have been suffering from astigmatism. Balls that were catching the outside of the plate were ruled balls, but balls clearly missing the inside of the plate by as much as a foot were called strikes.

Yes, ever since I followed baseball I heard that every umpire has his own strike zone. Well screw tradition, that is just unacceptable today, so I walked away. Baseball can easily rectify things by using high tech lasers, not only over home plate but also on the foul lines.

That recent perfect game that was taken away by a very bad call, should have been reversed immediately using instant replay. But this is not a baseball blog, lets move on to horse racing.

Disqualifications in horse racing are as subjective as they come. There seems to be no consistency. The exact same thing could lead to a DQ one day and no change the next day. Consistency at one track is bad enough, but when looking for it from track to track, forget about it. This really needs to change. In 2010, horse races shouldn't appear to be determined by a coin toss between blindfolded judges.

Define exactly what a foul is, and don't leave anything to the imagination. Horses can only move in a limited amount of directions, and jockey intent can easily be determined by watching a high def replay.

And what about Ontario's new whipping law? I believe it states (I looked for the exact rule but couldn't find it) that a horse can be whipped up to two or three times in succession, and then must have "time" to react. How much time is time? A nano-second?

The reason I bring this up is that it was brought to my attention, by one of my blog readers, that Eurico Rosa Da Silva whipped the Queen's Plate winner, Big Red Mike, a total of 17 times in the stretch. Twice whacking the horse 3 times in succession. And the time given for the horse to react reminded my of playing steam boat quarterback against a shady fast counter.

I don't ever remember defining how long a steam boat "one banana" was supposed to be, but I do know that those who said banana as if it were a one syllable word were frowned upon.

I want to add right now that I'm no fan of the whipping rules. As a bettor, I want the jockey to carry the horse over the wire if it comes to that. They are using the new feather whips, that should be fine enough...again, my subjectivity versus the subjectivity of what is a rule to begin with. However, rules are rules, and objectivity needs to be minimized if not eliminated.

If the whipping rule is in place because of public perception, Da Silva's 17 hits, the slow mo replay from the tote board side sure didn't look good. And if it was enough to get him fined, than why shouldn't it also get a horse DQ'd. I believe in harness racing, whip violations can get a horse tossed, but not thoroughbred racing in Ontario. Why? Again, the subjective way rules are made.

Isn't excessive whipping a form of cheating? Much like the use of a buzzer? I'd rather bet on the horse that got whipped 17 times in a stretch run against a horse that was whipped only 10 times. I'm going to take the wild assumption that whipping actually increases a horse's chance of winning in most cases, or whips would be abolished by now.

Da Silva, by the way, was fined a whole $200 last year for excessive whipping when winning last year's plate on Eye Of The Leopard. This was before the new urging laws came into effect. This year, if in fact Da Silva did violate the rules after the Stewards subjectively look into it (because the rules allow for subjectivity), it could cost him a lot more dough.

Again, I'd like them to lose the rule, but rules are rules are rules. I'm hoping that Da Silva did nothing wrong to violate the rules by the way (again 17 times in the stretch is fine with me, if I have my money on the horse), but I sure would like to know exactly what those rules are.

This brings me to the case against Bruno Schickedanz. Yes, it was deplorable for him to bring in a 13 year old horse who made $1.6 million in purses back to the races, especially after a three year absence (though people were upset he ran at 8,9 and 10 as well).

However, after reviewing the ORC 2009 Rules Of Thoroughbred Racing, I couldn't find what specific rule he violated. There anything in there about how old a horse can run til or how much time off makes a horse ineligible for life. Certainly there is nothing there about whether he could work out or not.

Possible cruelty? Again, this is a subjective stretch:

15.19 Any act to a horse which, in the opinion of the Stewards, could be deemed
to be an act of cruelty shall be a violation of the rules and the perpetrator is subject to a fine or suspension. In sufficient care or abandonment shall constitute cruelty under this rule.

Was it an act of cruelty to bring in a 13 year old horse for a workout? Where do you draw the line? It is probably more cruel to workout a still sore racehorse who is on the vet list, no matter what age.

The ORC is likely to nail Schickedanz for violation of Rule 24.01 which gives the ORC powers above the law, and the ability to make up rules without having to put them in their 152 page rule book:

24.01 The Commission may impose in its absolute discretion any or all the following penalties for conduct prejudicial to the best interests of racing, or for a violation of the Rules:
(a) Refuse an offender admission to the grounds of an Association;
(b) Expel an offender from the grounds of an Association;
(c) Suspend any Commission licensee for any length or time it may deem proper;
(d) Impose a fine or penalty they deem proper.
(e) Rule an of fender off the turf for any length of time it may deem proper.

Talk about subjectivity! In other words, according the ORC's rules, they have a God-like ability to be subjective when dealing with things that make them feel uncomfortable (because they didn't have a rule in place to begin with like they should have).

Again, I'm totally against what Schickedanz did, however I do believe that a rule should have been in place. There is no do doubt that what happened with Wake At Noon was prejudicial to the best interest of horse racing, but there should have been rules in place regarding the age of a horse with respect to time off to begin with. I cringe when I see a 10 year old mare entered who hasn't raced in 4 years, regardless of how many races or how much money she won. This is not something that should happen (if I can interject my subjectivity for a minute), and a specific rule should be in place. This situation has happened before, it isn't a blip on the radar.

But as it stands now, I think most people agree that bringing back a horse at 13 who hasn't raced in 3 years is completely against the best interest of the sport. But where is the line? Is it a 2 year layoff, a one year layoff, a three year layoff, and what about the current age of the horse. It seems OK to bring back a 5 year old that was laid off since two, or even a 5 year old first timer starter. No matter, make a rule already.

The ORC hasn't ruled as yet, however, Woodbine Entertainment used what appears to be their subjective powers to ban Schickedanz and trainer Tom Marino indefinitely.

I went through the 51 page WEG Thoroughbred Rule Book as well.

When it comes to shipping into the track, there are in-slip rules, which may or may not have been circumvented in this case. There is also a Coggins test requirement as well. Again, those look like the only things where violations could have occurred.

The only rule I see that pertains to Wake At Noon is 6.16, but Wake At Noon appears to be exempt from it:
Any horse 10 years or older that has run for a claiming price under $12,500 in the past 12 months and has not won a race in the past 12 months will not be ineligible to run at Woodbine.

The way it is worded would have made Wake At Noon eligible to race. The word "and" is key, it is not "or." Wake At Noon didn't race at all during the last 12 months, so he definitely didn't run for under $12,500 claiming.

I'm sure the rule implies that a horse who has missed a year and is over 10 isn't eligible to race, but that isn't what it says.

And in theory, if he had gone to Mountaineer as Schickedanz intended and won a $5,000 claiming race, he would have become eligible regardless to race at Woodbine, which again, rubs everyone with a shred of decency, the wrong way.

I also don't see anything about whether an ineligible horse can't workout or even have a temporary stall.

Technically, a horse is not eligible to run until it makes time in a workout at the most 30 days before a race, if off a layoff. But obviously, these horses need to workout to become eligible, so even if a horse is ineligible to race, doesn't mean it isn't ineligible to workout.

There are also all kinds of ponies on the track (many former race horses) who are in their teens. They get stalls.

IFs rule in the land of subjectivity. If Wake At Noon hadn't broke down, Woodbine would have most likely taken no action. If Wake At Noon had his fateful workout at Mountaineer, I do believe no action from Woodbine would have occurred. Had it been at Fort Erie, that is tough to say what Woodbine would have done. They probably would have the same wait and see what the ORC is going to come up with approach that Fort Erie is using right now.

Speaking of IFs, it was uncomfortable for me to watch Da Silva get off Big Red Mike as he suffered from heat exhaustion after the Plate. I know that the odd horse can collapse and die from heat stroke. Now what if he had suffered that fate? The 17 stretch whips would definitely come into play, and Da Silva would be taking a lot of heat away from Schickedanz.

I want to know that Da Silva didn't over whip, without it being a guess, and I want rules in place that make it so owners like Schickedanz can't even think about bringing a 13 year old back after a 3 year lay off.

Horse racing needs rules to objectively cover as many IF scenarios that it can envision, and the rules shouldn't be subject to subjectivity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Huh? It is impossible to have a rule that covers every single contingency which is why discretion and leeway is power given to the stewardsa and racing board. Bruno's intent was not consistent with the safety of the horse therefore his suspension is justified despite there not being a rule that specifically says that returning a 13 year old, former horse of the year to the races and ultimately to his death is "illegal".