Bertram and Diana Firestone, owners of Genuine Risk, the filly who finished second in Saturday's Preakness, anounced today they will appeal the Maryland racing stewards' decision disallowing their jockey's claim that his horse was fouled.
"We feel that the interests of the racing public and Genuine Risk would be well served by having the matter reviewed in the manner provided for under the Maryland racing rules," the Firestones said in a prepared statement.
The Firestones, their farm manager, Marvin Greene, and their veterinarian, Calvin Rolfe, met for about 30 minutes at Pimlico this evening with the Maryland stewards to review films of Saturday's race. They would make no comment other than the prepared statement after the meeting.
Jacinto Vasquez, Genuine Risk's jockey, claimed his horse was fouled by Angel Cordero Jr., the jockey on Preakness winner Codex, but the stewards voted unanimously Saturday to disallow the claim.
That decision has triggered a nationwide controversy and the track switchboard here has been flooded with calls and telegrams, most of them protesting the stewards' decision. Critics, including sports columnists and radio and TV commentators, have portrayed the Maryland stewards as "incompetent" and "three blind mice."
J. Fred Colwill, 67, head of the stewards, would not comment after tonight's meeting, but earlier in the day he insisted that the three-member panel's decision on Saturday was correct.
Under Maryland racing rules, an appeal of the stewards' decision goes directly to the state racing commission, which meets here Tuesday for its regular monthly session.
Assistant Attorney General Alan Foreman, who represents the racing commission, said he hoped a hearing "could be expedited as soon as possible." Should the appeal to the commission be unsuccessful, the Firestones would have the option of contesting the decision in court.
It is unlikely that the commission will reverse the stewards although they have, on rare occassions, in the past. The Firestones said they will donate the $180,600 Preakness purse to the "National Museum of Racing and to furthering the interests of equine research" if their appeal is allowed.
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer for Codex, said he is glad the Firestones had a chance to see the same film the stewards saw. "It has to be enlightening," Lukas said.
The decision to disallow the foul claim, "was one of the toughest decisions we've ever had to make," said Colwill, a racing steward in Maryland for 20 years.
"I've looked at the ABC-TV films of the race and I've looked at our films. I've examined them very carefully. There is no time that you can see this horse getting hit with a whip. I'll agree with you that this horse was brushed. But that's a long way from a bump."
The telephone rang continually, and Colwill took most of the calls himself.
"I don't see it your way," he told one caller who telephoned to say that a mark on Genuine Risk's head was prima facie evidence she had been hit with Cordero's crop.
"You've got to remember that this is a grueling contest and the horses are moving very fast," said Colwill. "A piece of clay or a pebble could be kicked up and make a mark like that."
Asked why the stewards did not post the inquiry sign, which would have signaled they themselves had questions about the race, Steward Edward Litzenberger said, "We goofed.
"In the heat of the action all three of us knew there would be a beef. We watched the reruns and didn't flash the inquiry sign. If you realy examine the whole situation, that might be the only area in which we were remiss."
But ultimately, said Litzenberger, "I voted to let the (Codex's) number stand, based on insufficient evidence of a foul."
Appointed by the state racing commission, the Maryland stewards serve at the pleasure of that panel and draw a base salary of $125 a day for each day they work. There are 305 racing days a year, and the four stewards work rotating schedules that have them on duty between 250 and 260 days a year. Their salaries are paid by the state, but the state is reimbursed by the tracks.
Besides Colwill and Litzenberger, the other steward participating in Saturday's decision was Clinton P. Pitts Jr. The fourth steward is Lawrence R. Lacey, who was working Saturday but did not participate in the Preakness decision.
From their offices five stories above the track, the stewards wield absolute power over the racing community, from the jockeys of the finest and most expensive thoroughbreds to the cashiers, tellers, trainers and stablehands.
They have the power to suspend or disqualify a jockey or horse, and the only course of appeal for those affected by a decision of the stewards is directly to the racing commission itself.
A native Marylander, Colwill grew up in Pikesville, just outside of Baltimore, and currently operates a horsefarm, Halcyon, within 15 miles of Pimlico.
Occasionally, he boards horses for Pimlico treasurer Ben Cohen and other horsemen, but he said he sees no conflict of interest in this.
A three-time winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup, the most prestigious amateur steeplechase in the country, Colwill has been in racing in one form or another all his adult life.
"The Hunt Cup was 70 pounds ago," said Colwill, who set a record in that race in 1938 that stood for several years.
A former licensed trainer, Colwill has done everything in racing's officiating capacity from patrol judge to racing secretary, the official who sets the conditions of all races.
Litzenberger, 62, was named a Maryland steward two years ago after serving in a similar capacity in Pennsylvania for six years.
During his career as a jockey, he rode in the Preakness, the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes in 1936. He has been connected with racing for 50 years since his boyhood in Western Canada.
"I started out as a hot walker, and I worked my way up," said Litzenberger. "I carried water and hay. Then they gave me a tame horse and I worked my way up to thoroughbreds. I've loved racing from the moment I was in it."