Newsletter: Racing! Digging down into Sunday’s non-DQ at Santa Anita

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Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter.

Sunday’s eighth race at Santa Anita has been a firestorm of controversy over the stewards not taking down Achira after the horse failed to keep a straight line in the stretch and interfered with the second-place horse.

Our daily pick-of-the-day guy, Bob Ike, did a Twitter poll, which was 9 to 1 in favor of disqualification. Unscientific, for sure, but clearly reflecting the majority opinion.

Some of you were critical of me for not mentioning it in the Monday newsletter. Truth is, I didn’t see it until later. I was on a plane coming back from Churchill Downs. But that’s a cop-out; I usually don’t like to offer an opinion on stewards’ decisions anyway.


I would like to provide an easy to link to the video of the race. Not that easy, though. But you can go to, create a free account and decide for yourself.

Now, here are two views of what went down.

The first is from our own Rob Henie, who does the weekly handicapping lesson for this newsletter. He’s the author of the successful West Coast (and East Coast) Handicapping Report. And, as he writes, his choice to win the race, was Achira. So, Rob …

“A day after winning the Kentucky Derby, Mike Smith was involved in yet another DQ controversy, or we should say, ‘non-DQ’ debate.

“For those who saw the race, Smith and Achira were on the front end. Down the lane they drifted out significantly. Yes, Achira was our top pick, but never mind that, he should have been disqualified, plain and simple. These are the California stewards who, over the years, have been responsible for the worst DQs and non-DQs ever seen in the sport.

“So, there’s a meeting set up this coming Thursday, where Smith has to meet with the stewards, customary for those involved in inquiries, regardless of the outcome. We can tell you how the meeting will go, 100%. Here’s what will be said; it’ll take about three minutes.

“ ‘Mike, let’s discuss your ride on Sunday. We didn’t take you down, as we didn’t believe [jockey Geovanni] Franco had to stop riding, but you did come out significantly, so please consider this a verbal warning, knowing the next time this happens, there’s likely a suspension on the other end.’

“OK, if you watch the pan shot, it’s true, Franco for the most part kept riding, and when finally standing up a bit, it was a bit theatrical, already defeated. Here’s the problem on way too many occasions with California stewards: They don’t adhere to the basic rules, but rather, they try and read between the lines.


“This was an EASY disqualification. Achira and Smith came out from the 2 path to the 5 path, pushing Franco and his mount as well. The fact Franco didn’t stop riding was not the issue. The issue was there was not a straight path maintained. That’s racing 101.

“If you drift one path, bump, and the affected rider continues riding, there’s a good chance they’ll leave that alone, but when you come out three paths, continually leaning on the other runner, it’s an automatic DQ in every state outside of California. Here’s an important point: Despite Franco continuing to ride his mount, he was forced to cover more ground, and Smith’s inability to maintain a straight course was worthy of a disqualification.”

The prosecution rests.

Now, for the defense, we have Rick Baedeker, executive director of the CHRB, and Darrel McHargue, chief steward for the CHRB, penning this explanation exclusive to this newsletter.

“Darrel McHargue, chief steward for the California Horse Racing Board, met with two of the three stewards at Santa Anita Park to review this decision, and he will be meeting with the third. One of McHargue’s primary responsibilities is to review decisions of this kind with all stewards in the state. He determined that Santa Anita’s three stewards agreed that the winner, Achira, interfered with second-place finisher Helen Hillary. They disagreed on the outcome.

“Stewards Scott Chaney and Kim Sawyer voted to let the result stand because they did not believe the interference was sufficient to cost Helen Hillary the win (beaten a half-length). Steward Grant Baker voted to take the winner down because he felt the interference did cost Helen Hillary a placing. By a 2-1 vote, the stewards made no change to the original order of finish.

“It is important to understand Rule 1699, which governs matters of this kind. The rule states that a ‘horse shall not interfere with any other horse. Interference is defined as bumping, impeding, forcing or floating in or out or otherwise causing any other horse to lose stride, ground, momentum or position.’ On that point the three stewards agreed. The rule goes on to state that the offending horse ‘may be disqualified and placed behind the horse so interfered with if, in the opinion of the stewards, the horse interfered with was not at fault and due to the interference lost the opportunity for a better placing.’ That was the point of disagreement.

“In 2015 the CHRB did an extensive review of Rule 1699, which involved analyzing the texts of similar rules in other racing jurisdictions and extensive discussions with the stewards and input from racing participants and the public. The Board eventually amended Rule 1699 to state more clearly what constitutes interference. But the Board could find no better alternative to the requirement that the interference must be sufficient to cost another horse a placing to warrant disqualification. That said, the CHRB is in the process of reviewing the rule again.


“ ‘A better placing’ comes down to the judgment of the stewards. No way around it. So, for this and many other important reasons, the CHRB takes stewards’ assignments very seriously. Focusing only on the three stewards at Santa Anita, they have decades of experience as racing officials and other significant qualifications. Sawyer was a jockey before she became a steward. Chaney was licensed by the State Bar of California and later worked as an assistant trainer. Baker was a racing secretary in Northern California. All three are accredited by the Racing Officials Accreditation Program. They have watched/reviewed tens of thousands of races.

“In addition to McHargue reviewing decisions made by the stewards, the CHRB’s Stewards’ Committee meets at least once a year and goes over some of the more controversial races. Furthermore, Executive Director Rick Baedeker and McHargue meet with every steward annually to evaluate performance. The stewards are general contractors, not employees. Those evaluations help determine assignments and in some cases result in stewards no longer receiving assignments.

“The CHRB believes in the integrity of all its stewards, otherwise they would not be in those positions. The CHRB is convinced the stewards make their decisions based on the merits of each case, and they are not influenced by the personalities of those involved or the odds on any horse.

“When conducting inquiries, all stewards enforce Rule 1699. As this often requires stewards to make judgment calls, there is bound to be disagreement, sometimes even among the three stewards.”

The defense rests.

Thanks to Rob, Rick and Darrel for the civil discourse. Now, the result won’t change. But the case remains open in the court of public opinion.

Santa Anita preview


This Thursday card is not a good one. Three of the first four races have six horses, and the other one has only five. That is not a good sign. Santa Anita needed to work hard to fill this card, and that’s something to worry about. We’ll be watching carefully to see if things improve, because if they don’t, it’s not unrealistic to start talking about a three-day racing week. The track has done a really good job not repeating the shortage problems of last year, but this card I’m sure has them on edge.

Your feature is the fifth, 6½ furlongs down the hill for Cal-bred fillies and mares 4 and up. The purse is $56,000. The field size, in order: 6, 6, 5, 6, 8, 9, 8, 10 (2 also eligible). First post is 12:30 p.m.

Golden Gate weekend preview

Now a look at the best racing coming up at Golden Gate. Race caller and all-around good guy Matt Dinerman is our host to previews and other musings. So, take it away Matt.

“Golden Gate Fields officials announced that the bayside track will offer a guaranteed pool of $50,000 in the Late Pick 5 wager every Sunday until the end of the meet on June 10. It’s a 50-cent minimum bet, with the sequence taking place in the last five races of each card.

“The feature race at Golden Gate Fields this week is the $50,000 Golden Poppy Stakes for fillies and mares 3 years old and up. The 1 1/16-mile race takes place Saturday and will be run on projected firm turf.

“Hall of Fame conditioner Jerry Hollendorfer has a strong 1-2 punch in the Golden Poppy with Turkish Tabby and Dreamarcher. Coachwhip, who ran second in the Miss America Stakes last fall, is also entered. Paddy’s Secret, winner of the Sun City Handicap at Turf Paradise, and hard-knocking filly Bella Luma, who recently won an allowance race on Tapeta for trainer Ed Moger Jr., rounds out the list of locals set to compete.

“A trio of Southern California contenders will ship north to try to earn their first ever stakes win. Leading the list of is Not Now Carolyn, a Keith Desormeaux trainee that comes off an allowance win on dirt at Santa Anita. Her best race may have come three starts ago, when the 5-year-old bay finished second in an allowance race to Grade 2-placed mare La Force. Also entered is the Carla Gaines trainee Dalsaros and Cynthiana, conditioned by Richard Baltas.

“Finally, a congratulations to Mended, who ran third last week in the Adoration Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old mare trained by John Martin was claimed for $12,500 by her current connections in January of 2017 and has made more than $300,000 since then.”


Bob Ike SA pick of the day

SECOND RACE: No. 2 Etching (4-1)

Lightly raced sophomore filly from the Ben Cecil stable turned in a decent third-place effort after breaking slowly from the rail when making her first start since October. She now stretches out around two turns and should be ready to show her best with a clean takeoff.

Sunday result: Sekhmet’s Revenge (3-1) got the right trip and ran well but was simply second best.

Bob Ike is a Partner/VP of (here’s a video) and the proprietor of (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).

Final thought

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Any thoughts, drop me an email at my new address or feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa


And now the star of the show, Thursday’s entries.