So-called bridge-jumper bettors appeared home free when 2-5 favorite Paige's Prize rolled to a 12 1/2-length victory Feb. 25 in the first race at Beulah Park (VIDEO), but moments later their anticipated small profits would vanish.
In the hours that followed, the stewards' decision to disqualify Paige's Prize was nearly universally panned by handicappers on social media sites—even players who said they benefited from the call. Some of those players suggested racing association stewards faced a conflict of interest because of a potential negative show pool if Paige's Prize had won (although with net pool pricing any exposure would be difficult to determine.)
On his Twitter account, prominent handicapper Ellis Starr tabbed it, "the silliest call I've seen in years," although he did not weigh in on the conflict of interest issue.
The disqualification of the favorite, who accounted for about 95% of the money in the show pool, resulted in massive show payouts for declared winner Petes Blue Diamond, who returned $20.60 to win but $41.20 to show; runner-up Personality Plus, $62.60 to show; and World Chaos, $72.60.
"Bridge jumpers" are bettors who make large wagers—typically in the show pool—hoping to cash the smallest of returns many times over. Ohio requires a minimum $2.10 return on each winning $2 wagered. A player who wagered $20,000 to show on Paige's Prize would have expected a $21,000 return ($1,000 profit). When bridge jumpers see their pick finish off the board, large show payouts can result.
In the Feb. 25 Beulah race, the bridge jumpers missed out only because the apparent easy winner was disqualified for an infraction in the backstretch. Steward Joe DeLuca said that while Paige's Prize was racing widest of three in the backstretch, he crossed into the path of Personality Plus (#5), causing that horse to come over on High Award (#1). Those two may have clipped heels and jockey Cesar Camaque lost his irons. High Award lost all chance, completing the race more than 30 lengths behind the winner.
"Our rule says you can't impede or intimidate another horse," DeLuca said. "(Paige's Prize) came down so abruptly, in such a small amount of time, that it gave us no alternative but to look at the outside horse. He caused the whole problem."
Trainer Jake Radosevich, who saddled Paige's Prize, didn't see it that way, noting he had never had such an easy winner disqualified.
"I can see where he came over to race with (#5, Petes Blue Diamond) but he never touched the five horse, never shoved the five horse," Radosevich said. "That stewards' decision was bad, real bad. I can see if you hit a horse, but my horse came over to race; then he just stayed in his path."
State steward Daryl Parker said the stewards have been emphasizing running straight out of the gate to riders at the meet. He said the point was emphasized again at a long film session with riders before the Feb. 26 card.
"You can still get the lead, then ease into the turn," Parker said, noting that the stewards are emphasizing safety to riders. "We asked them if any of them would want to be in Cesar Camaque's position."
Paul Gutheil, owner of Paige's Prize, said he may appeal the stewards' decision. He noted that Camaque didn't file an objection after the race.
"It's the most unbelievable error in judgment that I've ever seen stewards make," Gutheil said. "I've been owning horses 40 years and my family's all in racing. I'm 73 years old and I've been watching races all my life and I've never seen a worse decision...there is no chance we interfered."
With a 2-5 shot winning the race, Beulah Park potentially could have faced a negative show pool in which it would have had to dig into its own pocket to assure that at least $2.10 was paid for each winning $2 wagered. That left several handicappers on social media sites wondering if stewards—two of the three work for the racing association—faced a conflict of interest or were sending a message that bridge jumpers are not welcome in the pools.
Parker said a horse's odds do not factor into their decisions.
"You'd be surprised at how many people think that, but it never comes into play," Parker said. "We never have time to look at the odds or anything like that."
DeLuca added that while he and steward Vincent Clark are hired by the racing association, they still have to be approved by the Ohio State Racing Commission and are subject to review by the regulator. Parker is the state steward, representing the OSRC.