Wednesday's fifth race at Aqueduct, a maiden special weight event for fillies on the turf, was largely unremarkable in a sporting sense. The horses who contested it are useful types, but will have to improve to win a decent stakes race.
This race was more meaningful to horseplayers. Over $415,000 was bet on it in vertical wagers -- bets that involved the outcome of this race alone -- and it was also the final leg of the pick 5 and early pick 4 wagers.
But this race proved to be important. It illustrated a problem that appears to be getting worse:
No one seems sure anymore of what constitutes a racing foul. And that includes long-time, seasoned horseplayers who used to know with uncanny accuracy whether a horse involved in a stewards's inquiry or jockey's objection would stay up, or be disqualified.
This is not good.
Here's what happened:
Early pacesetter Conquest Lucknlove turned for home still in front, and on the inside. Truth, who prompted Conquest Lucknlove's pace from the outside, was still in that position in upper stretch, in the two path. Gioia Stella was bottled up behind these two, in a box on the rail, behind Conquest Lucknlove and to the inside of Truth. And Gioia Stella was full of run.
In mid-stretch, Gioia Stella and jockey Kendrick Carmouche could take no more, and bulled their way to the outside for racing room. In the process, they soundly bumped Truth, knocking her off stride, and forcing her farther outside by at least one path.
With daylight in front of her now, Gioia Stella surged clear, and finished first by 3-3/4 lengths. Truth continued on gamely and finished second by just a head over Conquest Lucknlove, an important point we'll get to shortly.
Within moments, the Aqueduct tote board was blinking like Christmas lights with an inquiry and an objection in progress, and the debate amongst horseplayers over the two potential outcomes began on social media.
One group insisted that Gioia Stella should stay up. This group maintained that even if Gioia Stella soundly walloped Truth in mid stretch, Gioia Stella was still obviously much the best. And most importantly, when Truth won the place photo, it meant that Gioia Stella's actions did not deny any other horse in the race a better placing. Truth was no match for Gioia Stella. The best Truth could have hoped for was second money, and that is precisely what she got.
There is plenty of merit in this position.
The other side of the debate was, Truth had every right to maintain her position in the two path, immediately to the outside of Conquest Lucknlove, and had every right to keep Gioia Stella boxed in, denying her racing room. Truth owned the position she established, and if that meant Gioia Stella never got a chance to run in the final furlong and got beat, so be it. So when Gioia Stella commandeered Truth's position by knocking her silly, it was a disqualifiable offense.
There is also plenty of merit in this position.
The New York Racing Association stewards agreed with the first argument, and left Gioia Stella up. Their official statement, later posted on the NYRA website, read, "After reviewing the video and speaking with the riders involved, in the judgment of the stewards, this incident didn't alter the finish of the race."
Okay. Fine. One can argue -- reasonably, I might add -- that if Truth wasn't knocked out of her path by Gioia Stella, the result of this race might have been very different.
The point is, this philosophy of the NYRA stewards, while possibly the lesser of all evils, is still inherently problematic. What if we have another Gioia Stella/Truth incident next week, only this time, the horse that finishes first only finishes first by three-quarters of a length? Is that a small enough win margin to think that bumping might have had an impact on the outcome of the race? If so, then what's the over/under win margin for when bumping doesn't and then does impact the outcome of the race? Two lengths? Three?
Compounding the issue is stewards's stands in other racing jurisdictions might not share the same philosophy the NYRA stewards have clearly established. In another racing state, Gioia Stella's actions might well have been grounds for a disqualification.
All horseplayers have ever asked of stewards is consistency. Don't leave Gioia Stella up on Wednesday, and take another horse down on Sunday for doing virtually the same thing. But so much judgment seems to go into calls by the stewards these days that horseplayers also need some clarity in disputed situations, and uniformity from track to track.
This is not going to be easy to achieve, but it's important. The folks who collectively put $10 billion annually through the windows in handle deserve it.