In 1956 Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called A Sound of Thunder. It was later used as the basis for a movie called The Butterfly Effect. The premise was fairly simple. In the future, a company that has perfected time travel takes people back to a point 60 million years ago to allow them to hunt and kill a T-Rex. The catch is that they must stay on a designated path because even the smallest action, say killing a mouse, could have disastrous consequences for the future. Naturally one of the party panics at the sight of the gigantic dinosaur, steps off the path and inadvertently kills a butterfly. While we don’t get to know exactly how that changed the course of history, it does in a dramatic way.
Luckily the Santa Anita stewards weren’t familiar with the story. In Steward-World there is no butterfly effect. Things can happen at the start of a race that the Oracles of California know had no impact on the eventual finish.
Knowledgable people can agree to disagree whether Bayern or Toast of New York should have been taken down after the rodeo start of the Breeder’s Cup Classic, but what we can’t disagree on is that the explanation the Stewards gave for leaving his number up was thoroughly unsatisfying.
CHRB rule 1699 states, “A horse shall not interfere with or cause any other horse to lose stride, ground or position in a part of the race where the horse loses the opportunity to place where it might be reasonably expected to finish.” In the opinion of the stewards, “it [the bumping] didn’t happen in the point of a race where it was reasonable to speculate that they didn’t finish in a position where they were reasonably expected to finish, which is the language of the rule.”
Seriously? Shared Belief, an undefeated horse, was never going to finish better than fourth? Moreno, the other classy speed in the race and a horse that has made a career out of running to the front and hanging tough in the stretch, was never going to finish better than last? Not one single horse involved in the incident could have possibly been affected by the actions of Bayern?
If you ask me, the plot of the movie Rise of the Guardians where Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Mr. Sandman get Jack Frost to stop the evil Pitch Black was more believable.
Frankly, I didn’t have a betting interest where a change in result would have made a difference, so my opinion isn’t tainted by that. To hear the Stewards tell it, they insisted their interpretation of Rule 1699 was absolutely dead on. They wanted the betting public and the other trainers to believe the incident at the start did not cause anyone to lose the opportunity to place where it might reasonably be expected to finish.
The key word in there is reasonably, and frankly that is where I think the Stewards missed the boat. Based on the feedback from knowledgable racegoers around the country, one has to conclude that a lot of reasonable people saw Bayern’s start as costing some horse a placing.
I don’t care how many races you’ve watched. If you are a steward and can state without equivocation that a foul at the start of a race – and remember, everyone including the Stewards agreed it was a foul – has less impact that a foul in the middle of a race or in the stretch, then I’d say you are wasting a unique talent judging races.
Just like the people in The Butterfly Effect, none of us could know with reasonable certainty that a clear foul at the start of the race would have no impact on the outcome. Beyond that, a lot of reasonable people who are not regular racing fans had to wonder if that just wasn’t one more reason why horse racing is losing popularity. In the biggest race on horse racing’s biggest stage, the Stewards made a decision that just didn’t pass the smell test for a lot of fans. I referee high school basketball, and I guarantee if I went to a coach and said, yes, he got fouled on the shot, but he was never going to make the shot anyway, I’d be lucky to get assigned to a third-grade girls game after that.
Perception is everything.
“It’s not what you physically look at that matters in life, it’s what you see in it.”
Or in the case of the Santa Anita Stewards, what you don’t see in it.