Suwannee River Outcome Upheld
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Gulfstream Park stewards affirmed the outcome of the Feb. 3 Suwannee River Handicap.
After hearing testimony Feb. 14 from trainers Christophe Clement and Mark Hennig, rider Eibar Coa, track veterinarian Mary Scollay-Ward, and starter Jeff Powell, Gulfstream Park stewards affirmed the outcome of the Feb. 3 Suwannee River Handicap.

The $100,000 Suwannee River (gr. IIIT) was the final career start for the 6-year-old Green Girl before she was to begin a career as a broodmare. The French-bred, trained by Clement and campaigned under Ronchalon Stable silks, finished first under the wire, a half-length in front of La Dolce Vita, who is owned by Gary Zwerling and trained by Hennig.

The dispute came after the field of 11 left the paddock for the Suwannee River. Shortly after entering the main track, Green Girl became unruly and unseated Douglas. Green Girl ran off for a few minutes but was caught by outriders.

Douglas eventually remounted her near the gap, where the field would enter the turf course, but Green Girl once again became fractious and unseated Douglas. After being unseated the second time, Douglas, on foot, followed her to the gate. He remounted the mare once again in the gate.

As a handicap, the starters carried varying weights: Among the top four, Green Girl was assigned 118 pounds, La Dolce Vita 117, J’ray 121, and Waquot’s Love 118.

Both Hennig and Todd Pletcher, trainer of J’ray, immediately protested the results to stewards, claiming that Green Girl gained an unfair advantage by not carrying her weight assignment through the post parade.

Gulfstream Park association stewards Chip Spencer and Jeff Noe heard the protests. State steward Kevin Sheen did not participate; and in his absence, Bernie Hettel, Gulfstream Park Racing Operations Manager and a well-respected former steward, served as the third steward without objection from the interested parties.

In a 2-1 decision, a majority of the panel denied the protests, finding that there was no evidence that the winner had gained an unfair advantage.  Hettel did not concur in the result and cast the dissenting vote.

The House Rules provide a mechanism for the connections of La Dolce Vita and J'ray to appeal today's ruling. Until all possible legal proceedings have been concluded, Gulfstream Park will not disburse the purse.

La Dolce Vita owner Gary Zwerling voiced his displeasure with the ruling.

"I am disappointed that the stewards did not avail themselves of the opportunity to correct their obvious and blatant error, but am confident that it will be corrected upon appeal," Zwerling said. "To allow their ruling to stand would be sending a message that any trainer who, for whatever reason, was unable to get his horse to stay under control from paddock to post could be rewarded with a 100-plus pound weight advantage for 10 minutes. 

"Even worse, it tells bettors who are off-track and unable to see the post parade that, while they can try to figure out how a few pounds difference in assigned weights might affect the outcome of the race, they won’t know if and when an unannounced 100-plus pound advantage might be given to one horse. That, of course, is absolutely absurd.  

"I simply cannot believe that Gulfstream Park will allow its own integrity and that of racing to be so completely trashed by ignoring clearly written rules of its own and those of racing. I am confident they will not allowing this atrocious ruling to stand."

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