It’s one of the biggest areas for controversy in horse racing - the rules on interference and how they are interpreted. Can you be confident how the stewards will view an incident? There are two opposing philosophies at work in different jurisdictions around the world - and they can result in completely different outcomes, as U.S. expert Cathy O’Meara explains, recapping a presentation she gave last month. But, she adds, there is also a push for uniformity.
‘A Quest for Uniformity’ - that was the title of a presentation I made at The Jockey Club’s Round Table conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing last month in Saratoga Springs, New York. As the co-ordinator of the Racing Officials Accreditation Program (ROAP), I was there not only to share insights on the goals and activities of the organization but also to explain how racing rules differ among countries.
For the benefit of interested parties who were not able to attend — or haven’t had the opportunity to read the transcript or watch the video replay on The Jockey Club website — I am glad to share some of the highlights here.
In North America, ROAP is the only accrediting body for racing officials and stewards for the three horse racing disciplines (flat, harness and steeplechase). Accreditation is a three-part process of education, examination and experience.
Striving for uniformity
While ROAP’s mission is to educate and accredit officials, the organization strives to create uniformity through the continuing education programs that teach ROAP’s annual points of emphasis.
As with many sports, points of emphasis are taught during training to promote the uniform enforcement of rules. Although there can be differences in individual state rules, which may cause a different final outcome from the stewards, the methods and approach to the adjudication process are the same across the United States.
The position of steward encompasses a multitude of roles at the racetrack to ensure the integrity of the sport. Stewards officiate the running of each race and ensure that all rules and regulations are followed for the benefit of all participants.
One of the most public roles of the steward is adjudicating the running of the race, in particular reviewing potential infractions of interference.
Uniformity has become more important over the years because of international simulcasting. Fans expect that the rules are the same with regards to interference, but while the mechanics of reviewing a race are the same regardless of location or jurisdiction, philosophies differ on how to adjudicate interference violations.
It is important to note the difference in terminology internationally with regards to the placing of a horse.
The term disqualification is used in North America whereas the term demotion is used elsewhere.
While that may seem like semantics, internationally the term ‘disqualify’ refers to a more serious violation where the horse is essentially removed from the race and stripped of all placing and purse monies due to an egregious act during the race.
Historically in North America, interference violations resulted in a required disqualification or demotion — or ‘a foul is a foul’. This basically stated that, if a foul occurred, the horse must be disqualified, even if it was for a minor infraction and the horse pulled away and won by ten lengths.
Over time, North America began to lighten this hardline approach. The rules softened, giving the stewards discretion with some rules regarding placings.
Other places that took this approach to interference were France, Germany, Japan and South America. Most other jurisdictions allowed the race to stand on its merits, and, if an infraction occurred, the jockey might be severely penalized for his or her actions.
A natural divide was drawn between the two philosophies with the former considered Category 2 and the latter Category 1.
Category 2 interference philosophy basically states that the stewards may disqualify if, in their professional opinion, the foul altered the finish of the race, regardless of whether the foul was accidental, willful or the result of careless riding. The stewards must determine first if a foul committed, and, second, did that foul alter the finish.
Category 1 countries will only demote (or change the placings) if the horse that caused the interference improved his position because of that interference. The overall placing of the horse that was interfered with is not taken into account.
The International Harmonization of Raceday Rules Committee (IHRRC) of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) was formed in 2007.
One of the goals of this committee is to work toward the harmonization of race-day rules.
Interference is a topic that has been fervently discussed for many years. There has not yet been consensus on what is the best approach.
Some believe that Category 1 has the potential to encourage rough riding while others believe that Category 2 is unfair to the connections of a horse when a mild interference costs the horse a chance for a better placing in a close race.
Japan has been the most recent country to convert its interference philosophy. Japan, being part of the Asian Federation Countries, was an outlier with respect to their Category 2 philosophy.
Buena Vista’s demotion
The 2010 Japan Cup, during which Buena Vista interfered with Rose Kingdom and was demoted, was a tipping point as many felt Buena Vista should have remained the winner. Over the next three years, the Japanese Racing Association studied the philosophy, engaged fans and racing licensees, incorporated a full-scale education campaign, and successfully converted from Category 2 to Category 1 from January 1, 2013.
Japan has seen a decrease in interference and resulting demotions and disqualifications since converting.
The example in the video below provides a good example of how the differing philosophies can result in different outcomes. Regardless of jurisdiction, all stewards will apply the same mechanics in the adjudication process, which includes watching the race live, reviewing the incident from multiple angles, interviewing the jockeys, applying the rule in their jurisdiction, and rendering a final decision.
This example race was circulated to the IHRRC for review. Under Category 2, the winner would be demoted (or disqualified) for interference because he cost the third-place horse the opportunity for second place by a margin of about a half a length. In Category 1 countries, the winner would remain because his placing did not improve due to the interference.
Otherwise stated, the best horse won. However, while the results would remain unaltered, the jockey could face serious sanctions.
What lies ahead?
Internationally, there is a push for all countries to subscribe to the Category 1 philosophy. Japan’s experience was a long process, but a successful one.
Domestically, North America is not there yet. The differing rulebooks in North America pose a challenge for unifying interference calls. If North America took up the challenge to change philosophies, it certainly wouldn’t happen overnight.
However, one advantage in North America is that most stewards are required to be ROAP-accredited. The mechanism of training officials is uniform, and if the states decided to change their rules to reflect a Category 1 philosophy, ROAP could provide the necessary training.
In the meantime, ROAP will continue to work with our domestic stewards, and with our international colleagues through the IFHA and the IHRRC, to implement best practices and play by the same rules when possible.
In other words, the quest for uniformity continues.
Cathy O’Meara is the coordinator for the Racing Officials Accreditation Program. For more information, visit horseracingofficials.com