Gulfstream Park makes the call on a most costly disqualification Gulfstream Park makes the call on a most costly disqualification

Columnist February 23, 2014

When a bettor was disqualified out of a $1.66 million win in the final race at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, horseplayers across the country felt his pain — and his anger.

The bettor, whose identity and location are unknown, suffered a cruel fate in the Rainbow Six, Gulfstream’s devilish version of the Pick Six. The wager pays out a jackpot only when a single ticket contains all six winners. (If nobody holds a unique winning ticket, part of the day’s betting pool goes into the jackpot.) The wager has been as elusive as ever this winter, with the jackpot growing to seven figures and setting the stage for Saturday’s drama and controversy.

Andrew Beyer has been The Washington Post’s horse racing columnist since 1978 and is considered one of the leading experts on the subject. View Archive

After hitting the first five winners, the unlucky bettor would hold the sole perfect ticket if the 15-1 shot Collinito won the finale. You can only imagine the person’s emotions when jockey Luis Sanchez sent his mount to the lead and opened an advantage of more than six lengths before another long shot, Strategy Keeper, launched a rally outside him in the stretch. With the challenge looming, Collinito failed to keep a straight path. He drifted to the right and slightly impeded his rival, though he never made contact. He pulled ahead with about a half-length of daylight between him and his pursuer, then went to the right again and into Strategy Keeper’s path.

Strategy Keeper dropped back, surged late and lost by a neck. The “Inquiry” light went on the tote board. The losing jockey claimed foul. Track president Tim Ritvo observed the proceedings and said, presciently, “Either way this is a disaster.”

With so many players chasing a potential life-changing payoff, Gulfstream profits every day the jackpot remains in play. On Saturday, betting on the Rainbow Six exceeded $550,000. The disqualification kept the jackpot alive — there were eight perfect tickets that included Strategy Keeper — and many horseplayers concluded this was the most sinister conspiracy since the Kennedy assassination. The blogosphere erupted with outrage.

Among the comments at the Pace Advantage chat room:

“Highway robbery in broad daylight. The integrity of the game sinks to new levels.”

“I’ve watched the replay about 90 times now. Absolutely horrible call. This stinks to high heaven.”

“I saw nothing that would have warranted that [disqualification]. I’d be committing some kind of crime tonight had that been my ticket.”

Horseplayers are sensitive about disqualifications because all of us have been the victims of bad ones and costly ones. Stewards are maddeningly inconsistent. They’ll treat identical-looking infractions differently from one day to another. They’ll regularly overreact to an infraction in the stretch while they ignore a mugging committed in the backstretch. They’ll often disqualify a horse who drifts into the path of a rival while he is well in front and clearly on his way to a victory. In my cynical view, stewards are most likely to make a DQ for an infraction that occurs in the stretch run and doesn’t affect the outcome of the race. Yet despite their many failings, most stewards view themselves as being beyond criticism or questioning. The Gulfstream stewards would not answer questions about the Collinito DQ and issued only a two-sentence statement that left various questions unanswered:

“A horse must maintain a straight path down the lane so as not to impede, interfere or intimidate another horse. [Collinito] did not maintain a straight path and was not clear and put the other horse on his heels, forcing the jockey to stop riding twice and possibly costing him a position.”

Of course, horses don’t maintain straight paths like trains on a track. There is always bumping and swerving during the course of a stretch run, and if stewards made a DQ for every incident of “intimidation,” the sport would be in chaos. What if Collinito had gone on to win by three lengths? Would he still have been disqualified? Stewards rarely say what the rules really are.

In Saturday’s 12th race, the case for the disqualification was cemented by the fact that, after his encounters with Collinito, Strategy Keeper dropped back and then finished so powerfully. Chuck Streva, who calls the official charts for Equibase, wrote in the footnotes that Strategy Keeper was “bothered” by Collinito, using one of his mildest descriptions of trouble. Streva said: “If the horse had not come on so strong at the end, I don’t know if there would have been a DQ. But did the trouble cost him a neck? There’s no doubt. So I thought the disqualification was a no-brainer.”

It might not have been a no-brainer, but the DQ was warranted. There was no conspiracy to keep the Rainbow Six jackpot alive. The stewards got it right. But this surely is small consolation to the bettor who missed the score of a lifetime. Nor will it inspire or bolster the betting public, which knows that stewards are apt to get the next one wrong.

For more by Andrew Beyer, visit washingtonpost.com/beyer.

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