Today's piece is about number 4 on the list of ways to improve horse racing, below numbers 1 (reduce the house take-out), 2 (make a scratch mandatory if a horse busts through a gate), and 3 (stop the on-site IRS forms), and above 5 (please disinfect the betting machine screens and TV's on a regular basis).
Number 4 is: Make the stewards available to the public.
Who knows who is up there in the isolation booth -- about the only time I can recall having seen a racing steward for any period of time is on the TV show "Jockeys," which runs on the Animal Planet, and is not as good this season as it was last year when it started out all down and dusty and rough. One problem with the show is the live action is dated, the meet before last at Santa Anita, that's History Channel material. The program has gotten a little cutesy, which happens after people start watching; the people in charge start thinking they're artists and filmmakers and pretty soon morning is spitting sunshine, it gets a little artsy. And some of the race announcing seems dreamed up to reinforce a character in focus. It's still a decent show for the behind the scenes shots, jockeys fist-fighting and stewards telling riders to stop going recklessly or else.
As there are specialized Form lines for trainers and riders, so too should there be information available for stewards, could be a hanging judge up there.
Sadly, I could be responsible for even more secrecy among the stewarding crowd. But my heart was in the right place. It was in my throat.
One evening at some live races, I was DQ-ed when the animal on which I had bet came in slightly on a horse that couldn't have gotten by for the win with a catapult. The jockey on the horse behind mine flopped like a Manchester United forward, lights started flashing, the next thing I knew, I was on a dark and dank stairwell, trying with a credit card to pop the lock on a door leading to the steward's lair.
Any judgment based on an assumption should rely on more than a loser flapping his arms. Far and away the worst penalty in all of sport is pass interference in the NFL, when the football can be placed 62 yards down the field "just because." Placing the football at the spot of the alleged foul is stupidly horrendous because it assumes the pass would have been caught without the bother. That's nuts. A decent completion rate is 60 percent. So why assume 100 percent of balls thrown under the influence of an interference flag would have been caught? Because the NFL is dumb about certain things. It is goofily thought that were there no point-of-foul penalty, defenders would routinely tackle any receiver whizzing by. But it never happens in college, where the penalty is a perfectly reasonable 15 yards. There's nothing like a bogus 49-yard penalty on a pass a guy couldn't have caught with a butterfly net to cost you the money. If the NFL won't wise up to the unfairness of the rule, at least is should start reviewing lame interference flags.
And if a racing steward takes down a $20 clear winner and puts up a $2.20 bad actor, at the very least the people who had the opera money on the victim deserve an explanation, not merely some flashing electronics from Oz.
The night I tried to go up the back stairs for a word with the steward, a guard thought otherwise. Then I took a seat outside, near a parking space with STEWARD printed at the front of a spot with, may I add, a fine late-model vehicle situated between the lines. It was then suggested that I submit any racing decision question in writing: from home. Since then, there has been no specific steward's ID, just parking spots for generic track staff.
They got me again, this time from afar on a simulcast ruling.
One that I had bet drifted out a touch-mid-stretch. And one behind it that could have gone inside jumped right as though it had come upon a redwood that had fallen across a hairpin curve. A jockey hit the red light, from all the theatrics, perhaps his wife and family also claimed foul.
Certain strides are being made in the horse player's favor. The day before yesterday, I detected the odor of pine air freshener in the men's room.
But if you're going to assume a horse flattening out would have gotten by one running evenly, at least have the guts to come on the screen and explain your lousy decision.
They say that over time, things like disqualifications even themselves out. To get my fair share, I'll be 105.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.