Hearing Is Held on Big ‘Cap Ruling : Appeal: Disqualification of The Wicked North is challenged by Hersh, who is skeptical of chances afterward.
A 6 1/2-hour hearing on the appeal of the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap was held Saturday, with the owner of the disqualified winner, The Wicked North, skeptical afterward that the stewards’ decision would be overturned.
“I’d say that it’s probably 60-40 against,” said Phil Hersh, who owns The Wicked North. “We had a key witness who didn’t get to say as much as we would have liked.”
Hersh indicated that if the California Horse Racing Board doesn’t give the $550,000 victory back to The Wicked North, he won’t pursue the case in the courts.
In the Big ‘Cap, which was run on March 5, The Wicked North finished first by 1 1/2 lengths over Stuka. The three stewards moved Stuka up to first and disqualified The Wicked North to fourth, placing him behind Myrakalu, the horse they said was interfered with by Hersh’s horse in the stretch.
Hearing officer Steven Schwartz said that he will file his opinion with the racing board in time for its meeting Friday at Emeryville, but it is unlikely that the board will make a decision until its next meeting, April 28 at Los Angeles. The board can either accept, reject or modify Schwartz’s opinion.
Hersh’s attorneys argued that The Wicked North ran in a straight line through the stretch, not closing a hole on Myrakalu as the stewards had ruled. They also argued that Hill Pass, the horse on the rail, came out enough to tighten the hole for Myrakalu. The stewards said that Hill Pass ran a straight course and was not a factor in their disqualification.
Hersh’s attorneys presented Carley C. Ward, a biomechanical engineer, as an expert witness who tried to demonstrate mathematically that the hole Myrakalu was trying to go through was an optical illusion. Ed Stetson, representing the racing board, objected to Ward testifying and Schwartz accepted only some of her remarks, throwing out the optical-illusion theory.
Ward acknowledged that The Wicked North had come in on the hole that Myrakalu wanted. “He came in very slightly,” she said, and when asked to be specific she added: “Three inches, maybe four.”
Testimony was heard from stewards Tom Ward and Pete Pedersen, patrol judge Michael Harlow, trainer Ron Ellis, former jockey Bill Harmatz and jockeys Kent Desormeaux, Alex Solis and Laffit Pincay. Desormeaux rode The Wicked North and is also appealing a five-day suspension that the stewards gave him after the Big ‘Cap. Solis rode Myrakalu, who finished fourth, a nose behind Bien Bien, before the disqualification .
“We weren’t anxious to disqualify a horse that could very well have been the best horse in the race,” Pedersen said. “But the rules don’t say anything about that. We tried to find some reason not to disqualify the horse, but that reason didn’t exist.”