Dear TDN Editor:
Some may argue that Thoroughbred racing is a contact sport. Twelve-hundred-pound athletes running at 40 mph around an oval and navigating through holes as tight as the eye of a needle might support that reasoning. Our racing stewards are there to guard against the worst from happening and protecting the integrity and safety of the sport of Thoroughbred racing. With the eyes of a hawk, they are doing their job well from their perch atop the clubhouse. All are accredited with experience and must be commended for what they do. For example, in just 18 days of the 2023 Saratoga meeting, five jockeys have been censured for careless riding. All but one, Tyler Gaffalione, was suspended. Gaffalione appealed and had his suspension stayed.
It becomes less effective when their on-track decision making fails to be communicated to fans and players. In each of the incidents above, stewards were silent to racing constituents about why they made their decision. The reports on the New York Gaming Commission site refer to careless riding. Without the details, damage occurs. With the lack of information, the rumor germinates in social media. Thousands of fans conveniently grow their own explanations without facts and embellish the rumor. Soon the stream flows to enemies of racing and we are under attack. The last thing racing needs is the unnecessary promotion of more racing haters. Like brushfires, lies about racing and the unethical that run it and the cruel that participate in it will saturate social media. Not necessary; there are solutions.
First, each track that runs a Thoroughbred racing meet could host a symposium, virtual or live, before a meet begins where the track's stewards explain the rules that apply and how they might adjudicate an inquiry. Vignettes, real or fictional, could be used to underscore the points made. Fans and players could interact and raise questions. Such a forum would be educational. When an inquiry sign appears fans and players would better understand the stewards' thought processes as they evaluate the incident. The emotions of the pending decision would be less fueled by the loss of a wager or placement of a horse.
Second, when an inquiry is decided the stewards might immediately appear on the tote board and video feed explaining how and why in this specific case they arrived at their decision. The current approach of a flashing inquiry or objection sign followed by minutes of silence and selected replays and then the public address officer announcing, there would be “no change in the finish position” doesn't serve racing well. This model frustrates fans and players and fosters conspiracy theories and fictional explanations by anyone dissatisfied with the outcome. If there is a legitimate reason to withhold an explanation it could be offered by the stewards or their spokesperson. Fans understand the litigiousness in gambling and would accept the explanation without blame.
Finally, racing would do well to recognize the value of the millions of racing fans and players across the country. Inviting them to participate on committees or workgroups that advise racing/gaming commissions or for that matter HISA would be an initiative-taking move. In this time where transparency is a buzz word for ethical behavior more would be gained than lost by such a move.
The call to action from fans of Thoroughbred racing is “keep us in the loop.” Many of us come to this sport from professions that would benefit racing if included. Fans, if their voice is recognized and matured, could be racing's best cheerleaders.
Editor's Note: The Stewards' Corner section of the NYRA website has now been updated with explanations of recent decisions at Saratoga Race Course, including last Saturday's GII Jim Dandy S.