No Penalties in Breeders' Cup Scratch Fiasco

Modern Games prior to the start of last fall's Breeders' Cup | Breeders' Cup Eclipse-Sportswire

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A four-month investigation into the dysfunction at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club that led to the winner of last year's GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf having to race for purse money only will not result in any complaints being filed against anyone in the chain of command now that “inconsistent radio communication” has been identified as a key contributing factor.

“Various witnesses indicated that they made calls over the radio that were not heard or received by the intended recipients,” stated a California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) summary report issued Thursday that cited findings from supervising investigator Michael Barker. “At some points witnesses resorted to cell phone communication to ensure their messages were relayed.”

The stylish win by Modern Games (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the Juvenile Turf was overshadowed by the 12-minute fiasco at the starting gate that preceded the running of the race. Modern Games had to compete for purse money only because of a series of miscommunications that involved the Del Mar stewards, the veterinary team at the gate, and the track's mutuels and tote departments.

It was a disconcerting optic to witness on-track patrons letting loose a chorus of boos as Modern Games crossed the finish wire first. But it was apparent that no one at Del Mar that day was deriding the horse, but rather the bewildering series of blunders that led to the colt being removed from the wagering pools, reinstated in the betting, and then finally being deemed good to start while running as a non-betting entity.

The error was costly in terms of lost betting handle, customer ill will, needless confusion, and the erosion of confidence in the officials responsible for overseeing and regulating the Breeders' Cup races at Del Mar.

Yet the CHRB report did not directly address any of those broader issues in its three-page summary of the report.

Here's how the CHRB described what transpired in the Mar. 3 report summary (the timeline does not differ substantially from how the CHRB explained it back on Nov. 6, 2021):

“Albahr (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) was in the number two stall. Albahr reared up over the starting gate, then fell back on to his side, with his legs caught under the number three stall. During this time, the horse in the number one stall, Modern Games, went through the front gate after the gate was opened by starting gate personnel and was uninjured. The veterinarians on scene initially believed that Modern Games had forced his way through the starting gate, and they made the decision to scratch him.

“When informed by gate personnel that Modern Games did not force the gate doors open, the veterinarians inspected him and advised the stewards that Modern Games was fit to run.

“Concurrently, the stewards were advised of the scratch of both Albahr and Modern Games by the veterinarians. The stewards called the scratch into the tote room and both Modern Games and Albahr were removed from wagering. The stewards were then informed that Modern Games was not injured and was fit to race. The stewards called the tote room to inform them what was occurring and requested that the tote room hold off on the scratch of Modern Games, who has already been removed from the wagering pools.

“Modern Games was then placed back into the pari-mutuel pool. Subsequently, the stewards determined that pursuant to CHRB Rule 1974, Modern Games would be required to run for purse money only. The tote room was then informed of the decision and Modern Games was again removed from the pari-mutuel pool.”

The investigation noted that “the regulatory veterinarians' hurried recommendation to scratch Modern Games could potentially have been avoided if a protocol requiring one person on the veterinary staff and one person in the pari-mutuel department be in charge of scratches had been in place.”

The CHRB report stated that the board “considered the merit of applying CHRB Rule 1697 to the recommended scratch by the regulatory veterinarians.”

That rule reads in its entirety, “After entering the racecourse track for the post, a horse shall only be declared by the stewards when they consider such horse unfit to run in the race. No horse determined to be a starter shall be excused or declared from the race. Any horse which breaks through the gate or runs off without effective control shall be examined by the racing veterinarian and determined to befit to compete before being permitted to start.

But, the report noted, the CHRB didn't apply that rule because: “1) The difficulty of proving a violation given that a condition precedent to a violation of this rule is that a horse actually broke through the gate; and (2) more importantly, animal welfare is of paramount importance in the CHRB's application of rules and creation of protocols.”

So instead of penalties or sanctions, the CHRB report came up with the following recommendations:

1) There is one designated Racing Veterinarian and he or she is the only person who can recommend a scratch to the Stewards and the only person who can communicate a scratch to the Stewards.

2) The tote company and the pari-mutuel department must each designate one person who can effectuate a scratch or purse money only designation by the Stewards. Both must agree before either action can take place.

3) A horse cannot be placed back into the mutuel pools after it has been scratched without approval of all three Stewards.

4) A Pari-mutuel Committee meeting should be held to consider changes to pari-mutuel regulations. Issues that may be considered include but are not limited to: (a) advisability of a purse-money-only designation and (b) requiring ADW companies to follow the example of brick-and-mortar wagering facilities in California by providing bettors with the opportunity to name alternate selections for scratched horses in Pick “n” wagers involving four or more races.

5) Associations, particularly on days when there are large crowds and competing bandwidth, must provide an adequate communication system for racing officials.”

The report stated that, “While the CHRB does not typically release an investigation report, especially when it does not result in a complaint, given the widespread public interest, a summary of the investigation is provided.”

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