When handling a top thoroughbred racehorse in excess of 1,000 pounds, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens often remained acutely aware of a mechanical issue in the starting gate that could imperil the safety of the riders.
Now, working as an analyst with Saratoga Live for the famed Saratoga Race Course summer meet, Stevens reacted with incredulity on Sunday when a mechanical snafu led to a “no contest” declaration in Race 7 of the 10-race card. When the 2-year old fillies reached the backstretch in the 1 1/16 mile maiden special weight, several jockeys paused momentarily after an outrider raised his arms to warn them of an issue surrounding the starting gate.
Former Major League Baseball catcher Paul LoDuca, Stevens’ colleague on the broadcast, later described the New York Racing Association’s decision to refund nearly all of the tickets on the race as a positive outcome for horse bettors.
After the horses broke from the inner-turf gate, an issue arose with a tractor that is used to pull the gate off the turf course, according to Daily Racing Form reporter David Grening. NYRA then needed a second tractor to remove the gate well before the horses reached the top of the stretch at the historic race course. An outrider, out of an abundance of caution, reportedly alerted the jockeys on the backstretch that the tractor remained stuck on the inner turf.
Watching head-on, it looked like an outrider may have yelled something to the jockeys because of the gate situation. You could see riders Junior Alvarado on Spunk and Rodriguez Castro on Rapid Miss Transit start to pull their horses up. https://t.co/SRk04EiP1w
— David Grening (@DRFGrening) July 24, 2022
Three jockeys, including Flavien Prat on 7/1 entry Hola Gata, opted to pull up before they rounded the clubhouse turn. The track staff removed the gate in time for a thrilling stretch duel, but the integrity of the race was already compromised, with three horses eased near the quarter pole.
“Ensuring a safe racing environment for jockeys and horses is paramount,” said Pat McKenna, vice president of communications for NYRA, in a statement. “Our outriders are highly skilled and experienced professionals who made a swift decision today based on concern for the safety of the jockeys and horses in the heat of competition.”
In response, NYRA refunded bettors for all single-race wagers on Race 7, as well as all multi-race exotic wagers that began with the seventh. Refunded wagers included the double, the late Pick-4, a Pick-3 that began with the seventh race, and the “Triple Play,” which featured Races 7, 9, and 10.
For other wagers that featured Race 7 as the middle leg of a multi-race exotic, NYRA awarded bettors with a consolation payout. The consolation payouts applied to double wagers on Race 6-7, along with Pick 3 bets featuring Races 5 through 7 and Races 6 through 8. Based on the decision to rule Race 7 as a “no contest,” the late Pick-5 returned a payout of $521, while the Pick-6 paid $2,069.
A favorable decision for bettors?
Stevens, who was inducted into the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame in 1997, could not recall a situation as bizarre as Sunday’s during his career as an analyst. As a jockey, though, he encountered a similar situation when a piece of debris flew onto the track during the fall meet at Del Mar in the midst of heavy winds. More recently, a gate issue at last fall’s Breeders’ Cup World Championship caused bettors to lose millions on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, the last Breeders’ Cup race on Day 1 of the two-day event.
LoDuca, a former catcher with the New York Mets and an analyst on Saratoga Live, described the outcome as a “no-win situation” for NYRA. The snafu ruined a pulsating stretch duel won by 5/1 Towhead by a nose over heavy favorite Idea Generation. From a wagering standpoint, LoDuca felt that bettors received the most favorable outcome possible.
“It was in the favor of the bettor and the bettor makes this sport go,” LoDuca said on the broadcast.
LoDuca was joined on the set by veteran NYRA analyst Andy Serling, who noted that a bettor who played any of the three horses who were eased by their jockeys didn’t have a chance to win due to the malfunction.
Explanation of refunds for Race 7 no-contest race ⤵️ #Saratoga pic.twitter.com/2u2hwM6zfQ
— NYRA (🎪) (@TheNYRA) July 24, 2022
“We do not want to see our customers feel as though they received the wrong end of the deal,” Serling said. “I don’t know what anyone thinks we could have done differently in that situation other than what was done.”
Photo: New York Racing Association