Gulfstream Park stewards on Saturday called an inquiry in the day's final race, a 1 1/16-mile turf event for 3-year-olds carrying a $75,000 claiming price. It was a race that had the potential to produce a life-changing score to the person or persons holding the only live tickets in the track's Rainbow 6 Jackpot bet. The Rainbow 6 is the pick six with a twist: to hit the major prize, you have to be the only winning ticket. With no solo winner, a portion of the pool carries over to the next day's growing jackpot.
There were three horses whose victory in Saturday's 12th race would deliver a seven-figure payoff: Duke of Ritchie, a 159-1 longshot; Pared, a 74-1 outsider, and Collinito, eighth choice in the field of 14 at 15-1. Collinito had trailed for most of the way before finishing 11th in his debut for trainer Gary Contessa in a January maiden special weight race on turf. On Saturday, though, the Elusive Quality colt went right to the front under jockey Luis Saez and opened up a commanding lead down the backstretch. He drifted out from the rail turning into the stretch and came out again with about a furlong to go. Collinito held sway to the end, edging Strategic Keeper – who'd chased from second all the way around the track – by a neck.
The stewards lit the inquiry sign and jockey Paco Lopez, aboard Strategic Keeper, lodged an objection, alleging interference in the stretch run. After a long look, stewards disqualified Collinito from the win and prevented some very, very unlucky horseplayer from cashing what surely would have been the score of a lifetime – roughly $1,663,000 for being the only winning ticket in the Rainbow 6. Whether the DQ was deserved or not, that was a brutal way to lose, maybe the worst beat in the history of betting the horses.
The decision by the stewards was not a popular one, judging from online critics. “Are those stewards for real? That was one of the worst DQs I've ever seen,” wrote Blood-Horse senior writer Steve Haskin on Twitter. Other, less experienced racing observers immediately smelled a conspiracy, suggesting that Gulfstream Park officials wanted to see the Rainbow 6 Jackpot carry over to another day.
These are the same people who think jockeys fill out their pick six tickets together before the races or the track superintendent has a magical method of manipulating the racing surface to induce longshot winners.
It's one thing to allow mind games to be played inside your head, but it's entirely another to start posting vicious allegations of wrongdoing by horse racing officials entrusted to oversee the game. That, sadly, is what happened in the wake of Saturday's disqualification.
One of the stewards besmirched by these reprehensible individuals was Don Brumfield, who rode 4,573 winners during an outstanding racing career that culminated with his induction in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1996. His integrity as a rider was never bought into question. Yet people actually thought this respected man would flippantly disqualify a horse to prevent someone from cashing a huge bet.
Another steward is Jeff Noe, a third generation horseman who has been a racing official for more than 30 years. To suggest that he would manipulate the outcome of a horse race – because that's what we are talking about here – is beyond the pale.
Then there was the character assassination of Tim Ritvo, the president and general manager of Gulfstream Park. Ritvo was indicted by the loony-tunes gang for being on the telephone in the winner's circle during the inquiry. “He must be talking to the stewards, telling them to disqualify the first-place finisher so his Rainbow 6 carryover can live to see another day,” they said, without a shred of concern for the good reputation he has worked a lifetime to build.
Yes, Tim Ritvo was in the winner's circle during the inquiry and on the phone. According to Gulfsteam Park director of communications Dave Joseph, Ritvo was sharing the extraordinary news with the CEO of The Stronach Group, owners of Gulfstream Park, that pari-mutuel handle was the highest it had been on a non-Florida Derby day since the track was rebuilt.
“Tim doesn't talk to the stewards re: any decisions on inquiries or objections,” Joseph said when asked if Ritvo had talked with stewards about the race.
Was the disqualification warranted? I don't know. It was a judgment call by officials who are trained for this job. It's okay to question their judgment on this particular call.
But don't question their integrity. The unfounded character assassination of people like Don Brumfield, Jeff Noe and Tim Ritvo is one of the most despicable acts I've seen in this game.
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