Fortunately, the 144th Preakness Stakes was decided on the racetrack instead of in the stewards’ room. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some rules drama.
Whether Bodexpress should have been ruled a non-starter is a much closer call than the clearly proper disqualification of Maximum Security from the top spot in the 145th Kentucky Derby.
But what these two incidents have in common is that they clearly called for the posting of the inquiry sign. The stewards at Pimlico did — albeit briefly — for what amounted to a short review. Churchill’s stewards failed to post the inquiry sign for what ended up being a 20-plus minute review with two objections and a historic disqualification. Either way, racing can get better at this.
The stewards have a duty not only to ensure that racing is conducted fairly, but to demonstrate that they’re ensuring it. This means communicating to the public in as close to real time as possible.
Posting the inquiry sign shows people that this sport is on the up and up. Bettors of Bodexpress deserved to know it was reviewed. Even if it doesn’t result in the horse being declared a non-starter, posting the inquiry lets people know the stewards are paying attention. The Preakness inquiry lasted less than a minute and a half. It was announced by Pimlico announcer Dave Rodman, but never shown on the simulcast feed available on the Equibase Yearbook app.
Based on the NBC Sports interview with jockey John Velazquez, maybe the starter hit the button too soon — but that’s a split-second decision and it clearly may have been the result of the actions of the horse rather than any human error. But it’s close enough to review.
Ironically, a situation similar to what happened at Pimlico Race Course is the only one where Kentucky’s rules require the posting of an inquiry.
The rule, 810 KAR 1:016 — Running of the race, states:
Section 10. Horses Left at Post. (1) If a door at the front of the starting gate fails to open properly and timely when the starter dispatches the field, or if a horse inadvertently has not been loaded in his scheduled position in the starting gate when the field is dispatched, thereby causing the horse to be left at the post, the starter shall immediately report the circumstance to the stewards who shall immediately post the “inquiry” sign on the infield results board and advise the public to hold all mutuel tickets. After consulting with the starter and viewing the patrol films or video tapes, the stewards then shall determine whether the horse was precluded from obtaining a fair start.
Clearly, the gate opened and, also clearly, Bodexpress was in the stall. I couldn’t find Maryland’s rules (this post may be updated if I do).
A racing official has said that in the olden days, the stewards literally had a switch in the stand to post the inquiry on the board — something that isn’t the case now that many toteboards are fancy television screens. Nonetheless, the stewards are in charge of the racing at the racetrack. There’s someone in the video department at every racetrack able to — or who should be able to — put the word “inquiry” on the screen.
The handling of the situation in the Preakness was better than the Derby, but in this modern technological age, racing still needs to get better about communicating steward inquiries.