I had to go all the way to Dubai to hear a panel discussion about how racing officials in various American jurisdictions have different interpretations about the most basic rules infraction.
Case in point: The international panel of stewards, which included Dr. Ted Hill, The Jockey Club steward at New York Racing Association tracks, reviewed the following disqualification from Golden Gate Fields in Northern California.
Horse A, the first-place finisher in the race, impeded Horse B, the runner-up. B, in turn, impeded the third-place finisher, Horse C.
Golden Gate stewards changed the original order of finish, A-B-C, to A-C-B, despite the interference by A against the runner-up. B was placed third behind C for interference.
Only one steward among the dozen or so on the panel agreed with the decision. The balance felt the revised order of finish should be C-B-A. Hill said that was how American stewards he discussed the race with would have ruled.
The purpose of the panel wasn’t to put down American intellect but to emphasize that inconsistencies in stewards’ decisions from one jurisdiction to another can cause confusion among fans and horse owners in the simulcast era. The lack of uniformity is seen as a deterrent toward expansion of international commingled pools in much the same way as are non-uniform medication rules. In other words: Why should the racing fans in Country X bet on races from Country Y, when its racing officials interpret the rules differently or allow medication practices banned in Country X?
The international panel of stewards admits there is a problem. One of them said, "It is blatantly apparent that we have not done a good job (at uniformity)."
The aforementioned Hill is chairman of a Stewards/Judges Advisory Committee for something called the Racing Officials Accreditation Program, which was created in 2005. Stan Bowker, chairman of the ROAP and executive secretary of the Virginia Racing Commission, said that because of simulcasting, "It is more important than ever to develop consistency in the way stewards and judges handle certain situations. Consistency of officiating is characteristic of other professional sports, and we believe that horse racing’s patrons will be better served if stewards and judges handle certain situations the same no matter where a track is located."
Racing fans aren’t being served that way today. France and England may interpret a disqualification differently, just as stewards at Golden Gate and Gulfstream may do.
The Interstate Horseracing Act, the federal legislation regulating simulcasting, got it right when it gave approval rights to the "representative" horseman’s group at the track where the live race originates. That law has served the industry well for nearly 30 years. The horsemen, or more properly the horse owners, are the major investors who put on the show that is simulcast out of state or to wagering outlets abroad. It’s been estimated that these owners invest more than $2 billion a year to keep horses in training that will race for purses of $1 billion. Not the best economic model.
The Jockeys’ Guild and its new national manager, Dwight Manley, think they should be part of the mix when it comes to simulcast rights and the Interstate Horseracing Act. The Guild recently sent out a statement to the press saying it is "working with several members of Congress" to amend that federal law and give jockeys the same rights as horse owners.
Though he was not mentioned in the release, Kentucky Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield has previously stated his intention to amend the law to give rights to jockeys. Whitfield served the Thoroughbred industry well by conducting Congressional hearings that looked into accident and health insurance for jockeys. He would not be doing the industry any favors by amending the Interstate Horseracing Act.