The year ended with two stakes races still undecided, one at Santa Anita and another at Aqueduct. The racing boards in California and New York may have hung up their new calendars, but until these important matters are settled, they can't close the books on 1984.
On Nov. 5, the last day of Oak Tree's meeting at Santa Anita, The Noble Player scored an easy victory in the $65,800 Russell Handicap. On Nov. 17 at Aqueduct, Stone White won just as easily, by three lengths in the $279,800 Remsen Stakes.
Stone White's victory, which would have been worth $178,680 to Gil Puentes, his owner-trainer, was negated just a few hours after the race by the Aqueduct stewards, who ruled that the 2-year-old gelding had carried the wrong weight, 113 pounds instead of 115.
The Noble Player's victory, a $38,800 payoff for owner Robert Sangster, was taken away by the Santa Anita stewards, but not with the same dispatch that was used in New York. About three weeks after the running of the race, the ruling came down that The Noble Player had been disqualified because he had not been eligible to even start.
At first glance, both cases seem open and shut. There's no question that Stone White, based on his previous performances, should have carried the extra two pounds, and racing rules hold the owner of a horse responsible. The Noble Player, having earned $25,100 for a win in the San Matean Handicap at the Bay Meadows Fair on Sept. 15, had no business running in the Russell, which was restricted to horses that hadn't won $25,000 in a race.
But both Puentes and Sangster have appealed the disqualifications to their respective racing boards, and there are indications that the two owners are also prepared to take the fight to the courts if necessary.
Puentes is contending that the error on Stone White's weight was discovered a few minutes before the Remsen was run, and that the stewards had enough time to delay the start and make the adjustment. The stewards say there was not enough time, that the horses were being loaded into the gate when the mistake was brought to their attention.
But the point has also been raised that after the horses crossed the finish line, the stewards had enough information to disqualify Stone White on the spot.
Instead, they called the race official, and payoffs to bettors were made on the basis that Stone White had won. When the disqualification was issued later that evening, it was naturally too late to affect the payoffs.
While Puentes is suggesting that the stewards didn't act soon enough--before the race--Sangster and John Gosden, the trainer of The Noble Player, are saying that the Santa Anita disqualification occurred too late. In other words, what is the statute of limitations regarding the result of a race?
A protest by another owner must be filed within 48 hours of a race--the rules of racing are clear about that--but no one appealed the victory by The Noble Player. When the horse's papers, which include his earnings in previous races, were transferred from Bay Meadows to Santa Anita, they contained an error that had been posted after the Bay Meadows race. The papers incorrectly indicated that The Noble Player had won slightly less than $25,000 at Bay Meadows.
A member of the Santa Anita staff, reading a trade magazine a week or so after the Russell had been run, noticed the discrepancy. By the time of the stewards' ruling in late November, Sangster had already received his share of the purse and Chris McCarron, the jockey on The Noble Player, had been paid his 10%. Fortunately, McCarron won the '84 national money title and posted a record $12 million in purses without needing the $38,800 from the Santa Anita race.
"I wish the guy who had been reading that magazine would go to the cinema or find something better to do with his spare time," said Gosden, trying to smile. Sangster, in particular, seems intent on taking The Noble Player case to the limit, perhaps because '84 was a tough year all the way around for the wealthy Englishman.
On both sides of the Atlantic, Sangster bought horses at auction that turned out to be damaged merchandise. At Keeneland, a yearling that cost $8.25 million had a foot problem. Sangster recovered half of his purchase price after negotiating with the seller.
Gosden said: "It wasn't a big purse, but Mr. Sangster is taking The Noble Player race especially hard for a couple of reasons. First, it was the biggest race the horse ever won. Second, the horse got hurt in the race, and if he lost the win, too, that would make it twice as bad."
The hearing on the Stone White race lasted several days, but there has been no recommendation yet from the hearing officer. In Sacramento on Wednesday, Edward Stetson, a spokesman for the California Horse Racing Board, said that a hearing date had not yet been scheduled regarding Sangster's appeal