Sitting down with the stewards

Rules of the race, 4035.2: Foul riding penalized.

(b) A horse crossing another may be disqualified, if in the judgment of the stewards, it interferes with, impedes or intimidates another horse, or the foul altered the finish of the race, regardless of whether the foul was accidental, willful, or the result of careless riding. The stewards may also take into consideration mitigating factors, such as whether the impeded horse was partly at fault or the crossing was wholly caused by the fault of some other horse or jockey.

The stewards who oversee racing at the New York Racing Association tracks have typed these words an awful lot since July of 2010, when they began to produce written reports of their decisions following any inquiry or objection. It is this rule that they consider carefully when deciding whether to alter the official order of finish in a race.

Following my post a couple of weeks ago about the NHL’s new approach to explaining disciplinary decisions, the stewards at Belmont invited me to talk to them about the work they do. At any time, three stewards are working at the NYRA tracks: one appointed by the Jockey Club, one by the State Racing and Wagering Board, and one by NYRA. I spoke with Dr. Ted Hill (Jockey Club), Carmine Donofrio (RWB), Stephen Lewandowski (RWB), and Braulio Baeza, Jr. (NYRA).

The stewards’ reports at Belmont, Saratoga, and Aqueduct are unique in this country; while the California Horse Racing Board issues written reports on its decisions, they don’t come out immediately after the race, and they often don’t come out until a day or two later. The system at the NYRA tracks is designed to let bettors know right away why a horse or was not disqualified.

Yet since the system’s inception, some bettors and racing fans (including this one) have been dissatisfied with what the stewards have given us, wanting more details and explanation for their decisions than they’ve been providing.

The stewards spoke at length about their process for making a decision. They watch the video replay from a variety of angles. They talk to the jockeys involved. They consult the rule book. They talk to each other. And the primary question they consider is: did the incident cost a horse a placing?

And if, in their opinion, the answer to that question is “yes,” they issue a disqualification.

Given their unique position in the racing world, the New York stewards have few, if any, models for the reports that they write, and they welcomed feedback on how those reports are received by the racing public. They like the idea of linking their reports to a video of the incident in question, and they seek further suggestions for how their reports could more fully explain their decisions to the betting public.

So here’s your chance. Check out Stewards’ Corner and the weekly recap, and then come back here and let me – and the stewards – know what else you’d like to see.

The four gentlemen (and I use that word deliberately) were incredibly gracious in offering me feedback on my post, in explaining to me their work, and in soliciting further suggestions. Let us treat them in kind and offer serious, thoughtful, reasonable, polite comments and suggestions. Though I seldom moderate comments, those that are otherwise will be removed. The stewards are giving us a heck of an opportunity here, and let’s take good advantage of it.

9 thoughts on “Sitting down with the stewards

  1. Teresa,

    This latest opportunity your blog has sparked is yet another reminder of the valuable contribution Brooklyn Backstretch is making to NY racing.

    The system Down Under includes live cameras in the stewards room during deliberations. The public actually gets to hear each jockey, listen in on the stewards debate the issue and eventually learn of the final decision – all on camera in real time.

    If you ever get a chance, take a look at Aussie racing. On most Friday nights (Saturday racing there), I watch online via Twinspires or sometimes at my local OTB. Of course, you may watch for a while and NOT get an enquiry on any given raceday. But I’ve observed quite a few, as my vicarious participation in Aussie racing has increased over the past few years. Truth be told, I enjoy it more than I do the American version. But that’s a topic for another time.

    Just another idea for NYRA to consider. After all, the 21st. century supposedly ushers in the wonderful new age of “transparency”. Currently NYRA provides footage (of the incident)along with an explanation of the stewards’ ruling, immediately AFTER the decision.

    Keep up the good work. You are one of the treasures on the NY racing circuit. It was great seeing you at Belmont on Saturday. Nice boots !



  2. Great work, again Teresa!

    On the subject of questions for the stewards, approximately 2 or 3 years the stewards stopped disqualifying a horse, whose jockey “accidently” or purposely, hit another horse with his whip. I have seen too many races since, where a horse was hit in the face, sometimes repeatedly, with the stewards taling no action. This seems incredulous, in the wake of, “regardless of whether the foul was accidental, willful, or the result of careless riding.” When did what used to be an obvious flagrant disqualification for impeding and affecting another horse, get marginalized away into, “It didn’t affect the order of finish” by the stewards? Actually, the stewards stopped putting up the inquiry sign when these incidents have occurred. How fortunate that the stewards were able to read the minds of the horses that were so negatively impacted, to know that it didn’t affect them.

  3. Teresa,

    It’s a excellent measure by NYRA to have prompt decisions following rulings. However, they said they want to start “linking their reports to a video of the incident in question”.

    One way to do so is by adding a teleprompter. I understand that when we hear of a teleprompter, we might think of football Sundays and a rotund analyst explaining things that go boom. But a teleprompter can be used with fouls to explain the paths that horses took, explaning why the path was or was not worthy of a foul. It can be used to sketch out horses in a head-on replay. Such classification makes it easier to identify participants.

    Most importantly, it’s an idea that has been tried, tested, and executed. Arlington Park in suburban Chicago has used a teleprompter to explain fouls, and their use of the teleprompter came to the forefront after the 2008 G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity.

    In this roughly run 2 y/o race, there was an inquiry, a jockey’s objection, and a double disqualifcation. After this race, the AP stewards came on to the in-house feed and explained why there was a double disqualifcation, and used a teleprompter to explain the ruling.

  4. I would really like to see the Stewards come on live TV with a telestrator for 2-3 min after each inquiry to show everyone exactly what happened and to give a short explanation. This exactly how every other sport handles video review. The ref gives the explanation and the TV crew shows the replay with a description.
    It would be easy to have a camera and a small set in the stewards room where you could broadcast from. That way everyone could see the details and not have to speculate about why a placing happened or didn’t happen.

  5. Teresa,

    Here is a brief thought that might be kept in mind by your readership, a singular collection of fairminded people who enthusiastically follow horseracing and the wagering upon horseracing: Stewards are to be dispassionate and impartial adjudicators of each race with no interest in the outcome of those races they judge. They are not supposed to care what horse wins or places; they are supposed to care only that a race has been run fairly. Common knowledge, right? Well, sometimes.

    I know this concept appears obvious and unnecessary to the subject, but it ought to be remembered when considering how the stewards’ decision affects the horse you’ve wagered upon. Your vested interest could shade your interpretation of events — sometimes — maybe those times when you can’t see what the announcer describes after the race is made Official.

    For instance, “… that S.O.B. who drove his mount into Dobbin” at the 1/16th pole and almost dropped your horse (in your eyes) might have been knocked off balance by another horse initially, or might not have made the contact you are (pari-mutually) sure occured. The accurate reading of a race incident cannot be consistently delivered without lots and lots of experience watching races and knowing what has and has not happened, in fact, on the track.

    Or, “… that jockey hit my horse in the head with his whip, repeatedly!” Or, did he? Sometimes this one is so subtle it is hard to see, and sometimes the “hit” horse was jerking his head in opposition to his rider’s efforts at the same time a neighboring jockey was whipping his mount.

    This is not to say some decisions are easier to understand than others, nor that there does not exist a basic difference of opinion between what is observed in the stewards’ stand and what is observed on a grandstand or clubhouse monitor. Differences of opinion are what make horseracing, naturally, but the stewards’ stand is manned by three knowledgable professionals who are able to compare thoughts before they render their considered decision and make a race Official. They make every effort to make the RIGHT DECISION when they change a natural order of finish. I know.

    Just a mention of the obvious because I think it should be remembered.


    Great points. I hope they are seriously considered. They are certainly within the realm of “possible” because of NYRA’s excellent CCTV department.

  6. Jockeys do NOT stay down and ride to the finish at any track. I am not talking about the whip either. Look at photos with riders standing up in the irons and fine or suspend them for not finishing. It’s a bad habit in America that needs to be rectified.

  7. Once the Stewards observe a possible incident, I would like to see the “INQUIRY” sign lighted on the infield toteboard during the running of the race. This would confirm to the betting public that the Stewards noticed a possible infraction. In cases where horses are left in the gate or fell during a race the “INQUIRY” is usually lit but not until the race is concluded. The early “INQUIRY” sign may prevent torn and lost mutuel tickets….

  8. A few random questions for the stewards

    1) Why not explain why they felt an incident didn’t cost a placing? Even if people disagree — which some obviously will — with their reasoning, it’s better to have some idea what they were thinking. For example,the last race on Aug. 6 at Saratoga was very controversial where a bumping incident happened near the wire and the stewards took no action. Bettors, and horsemen, were left perplexed and angry and more people were talking about that race than Tizway’s Whitney win one race prior. Some sort of explanation was warranted.

    2) Why do they talk to the jockeys? Isn’t the video replay enough? It would speed up the adjudication process, no?

    3) Also wondering and I don’t know if the stewards would answer this, but is their job performance ever reviewed such as NFL refs or boxing judges?

    Anyway, glad they afforded you an audience.

    Nice job,


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