A panel designed to highlight the differences between major international jurisdictions and North American racing regarding interference did just that in the final session of the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program's Global Symposium on Racing Dec. 6 in Tucson, Ariz.
Put simply, the U.S., a Category 2 country, disqualifies horses if infractions, in the view of the stewards, cost the fouled horse a placing. Category 1 countries like Japan only examine the race outcome for the horses involved in the infraction.
For instance, in the U.S. a horse who commits a foul that costs a rival second- or third-place money is disqualified to a placing behind the fouled horse. In Japan that same horse who commits an infraction would only be disqualified if it is determined that the infraction cost the fouled horse the chance to defeat the horse who committed the foul. The fouled horse's finish relative to other horses in the race does not factor into the decision in Category 1 countries.
The Japan Racing Association representative on the panel, Atsushi Koya, lauded the change the JRA made in 2013 to Category 1 and provided statistics to support his decision. From 2013-16 not one horse (from about 3,400 races a year) has been disqualified from first place. Six have been disqualified from placings underneath the winner.
"This change was a true reform to make our racing better," Koya said. "With this change the stewards are able to make decisions faster and straightforward, even in complicated cases. I think it helps ... the punter move onto the next race quickly after knowing the result and a decision."
Although statistics for U.S. disqualifications were not displayed during the panel discussion, the difference compared with Japan is stark. California Horse Racing Board steward Scott Chaney, while expressing that the ease of the Category 1 system is a benefit, ultimately made the point that Category 2 rules are more fair to all participants.
"When you switch to Category 1, you're sacrificing fairness, equity—things like that—for certainty, consistency, and (being) easier to understand. ... Our current philosophy introduces a lot more judgment and a lot more subjectivity in an effort to make the races and their outcomes more fair—more just," Chaney said.
Koya's retort was to the point.
"Stewards cannot treat everything," he said.
After a video review segment, where the panel and the audience shared opinions on disqualification decisions in multiple jurisdictions, one audience member summed up an inherent problem in the Category 1 approach.
"We worry about adding owners to the game, and if you're the owner of this horse who finished third by a neck who probably would have run second but wasn't going to finish first—there's no remedy there," he said. "And if you're a fan, the outcome is not fair. ... So the rule only talks about the effect on the sufferer, as opposed to the effect on the final finish of the race. I'm a little concerned with the image (that is) projecting. There's a lot of people playing superfectas and other wagers, and it's not going to be fair to them."