View From The Eighth Pole: Horseplayers Deserve Better From Stewards And Regulators

by | 08.20.2018 | 3:58pm
Stewards reviewing race

My phone started blowing up Sunday afternoon, shortly after the fourth race at Gulfstream Park was run. There were calls, emails, text messages and Twitter comments imploring me to watch jockey Tony Maragh on a horse named Musical Heart.

The 3-year-old gelding by Maclean's Music, owned by Joseph Bucci and trained by Aubrey Maragh, finished second, beaten a head by Richest Gifts in a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming race offering a $47,000 purse.

The Equibase chart footnotes about Musical Heart read: “MUSICAL HEART reserved racing wide and unasked while trailing field in early stages, began to move up closer racing wide still unasked in the turn, entered top stretch eight wide and continued to gain without being persevered with.”

A few observations:

  • The Equibase chartcaller could be subject to a reprimand by Equibase management for stating what many people who saw the race believe to be the truth. Equibase is owned by racetrack members of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America and The Jockey Club. Over the past year, Equibase has been instructing its chartcallers to withhold information from charts that racetracks and The Jockey Club might consider damaging to the sport's image. In my opinion, this chartcaller did his job well.
  • Owner Joseph Bucci and trainer Aubrey Maragh had a second horse in the race, uncoupled for wagering purposes, named Northern. He was ridden by Romero Maragh and pressed the early favorite, Silver Defense, through fractions of :21.96 and :44.99 before both tired to last and next to last in the seven-horse field. A third horse in the race, fifth-place finisher Fafa, ridden by Carlos Montalvo, was owned by Rajkamal Maragh and trained by Allen Maragh, the brother of Aubrey Maragh
  • The footnotes state that Musical Heart entered the top of the stretch “eight wide.” There were seven horses in the field.

I'm not going to judge the ride by Tony Maragh. Watch the video shown below and form your own opinion. Previous races, including Musical Heart's maiden win under Luis Saez on March 2, suggest the gelding responds to aggressive handling.

Stewards at Gulfstream Park (two work for the track and a third for the state's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering) have notified jockey Tony Maragh to see them on Wednesday morning for a review of the film of the race. No owners or trainers with horses in that race have been interviewed, as of Monday afternoon.

Whatever the results of the film review, stewards at Gulfstream Park do not post official rulings on-track. Official rulings from the stewards at Gulfstream Park do not appear to be posted on the “recent rulings” section of the Association of Racing Commissioners International website, either. Florida's Department of Business & Professional Regulation, which oversees the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, used to make rulings available by searching individual licensees, but they have apparently given up and stopped posting violations. Stewards minutes at Gulfstream Park, if they are compiled, are not made public, as they are in several racing states. (For thorough stewards minutes, see what the Hong Kong Jockey Club posts every racing day.)

Horseplayers deserve better.

It's no wonder stewards, regulators and racetrack management in some jurisdictions are held in such low regard by the public.

It's not just in Florida.

At Mountaineer Park in West Virginia recently, unusually high show payoffs were triggered when a heavy favorite, Utana, finished off the board after what can only be described as an unusual ride by his jockey.

West Virginia Racing Commission executive director Joe Moore has not responded to multiple emails and phone calls from Paulick Report asking about the status of any investigation into that race. There was a report in Thoroughbred Daily News quoting Moore saying about the race: “We're looking into it.”

What assurances does the betting public have that “we're looking into it” means that a serious investigation is under way?

(UPDATE: Shortly after this article was published, executive director Moore called to say the West Virginia Racing Commission is investigating the Aug. 8 Mountaineer race, that stewards have spoken to the jockey and trainer involved, that the horse passed a pre-race veterinary inspection and was looked at post-race by a veterinarian and “showed no ill effects.” In addition, stewards at Charles Town have also been asked to examine the films of the race. Utana was not drug tested despite being an odds-on favorite.)

In Oklahoma, it's been more than 10 weeks since Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission executive director Kelly Cathey assured Paulick Report's Natalie Voss officials were investigating a fatal breakdown of a horse whose veterinarian was observed treating horses inside of the permitted 24-hour window. Do necropsy reports really take 10 weeks to perform?

If Cathey is holding out from releasing information to the media, this wouldn't be the first time.

Also in Oklahoma, a licensed veterinarian allegedly involved in a Class 1 drug case in Texas, is permitted to participate as a licensed owner without having to answer questions from officials. The Texas Racing Commission would like to speak with the vet about the case, but its authority apparently does not cross state lines.

Regulators and tracks in too many states are failing this business. Horseplayers are losing faith that the game is being played on the up and up. I don't blame them.

That's my view from the eighth pole.


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