Mind Games

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How did you spend the almost 20-minute delay before the debacle that was Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf?

Yelling at your TV?

Talking to friends? Commiserating about bets won or lost?

I spent most of not far from the walkway to the winner’s circle at Del Mar, surrounded by loud drunks smoking cigarettes and next to two nice guys who had no idea what was going on.

You see, these guys weren’t among the blind masses that came out for Future Stars Friday. They were just a couple guys who liked to gamble. That was easy to tell looking at their stack of tickets for the days final race.

When everything was announced I saw one of my two new friends – they might have been brothers; I didn’t ask – spot my media credential. That led to a question. Then another. Then another. And then a few more.

So, the next 10 minutes or so were spent explaining the scratch of Albahr, who flipped in the starting gate. That part was pretty simple to explain. Then came the announcement that Modern Games, who went to 9-5 on the tote board with the scratch of his stablemate, was also scratched after he’d trotted about 50 yards down the grass course under a light hold from William Buick.

It looked like he’d broken through the gate – we later learned the assistant starter opened the front doors so he’d avoid any potential issue from Albahr.

Most everyone knows that happened from there. Modern Games was announced as a scratch, leaving a field of 12 for the 1-mile Juvenile Turf. Dakota Gold went from the 7-1 third choice before any of the scratches to 7-2 after one scratch and then the 5-2 favorite. A few moments later Modern Games was announced to be running for purse money only.

That’s when the questions started.

“What’s that mean?”

“What do I do with these tickets?”

“What if he wins, do I win?”

After some explanation and encouraging the guys to hold onto their tickets, especially if they had the Nos. 1 or 2. Not completely sure they grasped what was going on, all I could think was “I hope they’re explaining this on TV.”

With all the on-air talent rich in racing experience on the NBC Sports Network broadcast surely it was explained. As for everyone on track, watching the races play out a few yards away, they were probably on their own.

Predictably, Modern Games ran to his earlier pre-scratch and purse-money-only odds and won the Juvenile Turf. Predictably the boos rained down from the grandstand, clubhouse, apron and backyard. How could they not?

A friend texted a two-word opinion on the entire ordeal.

“Horse racing.”

And here we go again.

The latest incident in the game that needed an explanation.

To their credit officials from the California Horse Racing Board made their way to the press box to first read an official statement and then answer questions.

The CHRB statement:

“After #1 Modern Games reared up and hit the back of the gate, #2 Albahr flipped over and became lodged underneath the starting gate. The scratch of #2 Albahr was relayed to the stewards and that horse was taken out of the wagering pools and appears uninjured. The veterinary staff then relayed a second scratch of #1 Modern Games based on the initial observation. This was also relayed to the stewards, who removed the horse from the wagering pools. After further discussion and observing #1 Modern Games that horse declared fit and racing sound, and this fact was relayed to the stewards, who pursuant to CHRB rule 1974 allowed the horse to run for purse only. The CHRB and the Breeders’ Cup are reviewing the current veterinary and scratching procedures to ensure that this does not occur going forward.”

A short while later Breeders’ Cup issued its own statement:

“Breeders’ Cup races are subject to CHRB rules, including Rule 1974 B which states: “If a horse is removed from the wagering pool due to a totalizator error, or due to any other error, and neither the trainer nor the owner is at fault, the horse shall start in the race as a non-wagering interest for the purse only and shall be disregarded for pari-mutuel purposes. The decisions leading up to today’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf were made under the authority of the CHRB. Please refer to the advisory put out by the CHRB earlier this evening for additional details and direct any further questions directly to them. We thank the CHRB for their thorough review of this situation, and we regret the impact this has had on the betting public. The health and safety of our equine and human athletes is our top priority and we are thankful for the safety of all involved.”

Fast-forward to Saturday morning, a short while before the first of nine Breeders’ Cup races was run, and a join statement came from the CHRB, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Breeders’ Cup:

“The CHRB, Del Mar, and Breeders’ Cup officials reviewed the circumstances of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last night and again this morning. The CHRB determined that, as discussed in the aftermath of the race, #1 Modern Games was scratched by the stewards on the recommendation of one of the track veterinarians, Dr. Chuck Jenkins, at the starting gate at 17:35:35 PT. After additional examination and assessment of Modern Games by the attending veterinary team, track veterinarian Dr. Dana Stead concluded that the horse had not been injured and communicated to the stewards that the horse was cleared to run. Due to a miscommunication between the stewards and the Del Mar mutuels department, Modern Games was reinserted into the pari-mutuel wagering pools at 17:37:01 PT. At 17:43:49 PT, after it was made clear to the mutuels department that Modern Games was competing for purse money only, the horse was again removed from the wagering pools. The race went off at 17:47:34 PT. Per CHRB rules, all wagers on #1 Modern Games in the win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, superfecta, and super high five pools are subject to refund. Daily double and Pick 3 wagers to Modern Games received a consolation payment. Per CHRB rules, in all other multi-leg wagers ending on the 10th race, bettors with tickets including #1 Modern Games and #2 Albahr received the post-time favorite, #3 Dakota Gold, unless they designated an alternate for the race. As a result of the review, the CHRB, Del Mar and Breeders’ Cup are modifying their injury management communications protocols, so that Dr. Stead will make the final determination with respect to recommended scratches at the starting gate and has sole authority to communicate those recommendations to the stewards.”

All of these exhaustive statements are just that, exhausting. Just like the explanations of an undercover video showing alleged animal cruelty, breakdowns at Santa Anita Park in the winter of 2019, Mongolian Groom’s breakdown in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic (also at Santa Anita), Maximum Security’s disqualification in the Kentucky Derby and barely any explanation from stewards, Medina Spirit’s apparent drug positive in this year’s Kentucky Derby (a situation still unresolved with that colt set for Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic) and on and on.

The show rolls on, along with the explanations.

I just hope my friends didn’t toss their tickets on the ground.