The Sydney Cup in Australia is a venerable $2 million (AUS) Group 1 race run at a distance of 3,200 meters or about 2 miles.  The April 8, 2017 edition ended in tragedy and controversy.  It demonstrates why stewards in horse racing have difficult and thankless jobs.  Whereas referees in other sports sometimes make disputed calls that determine winners and losers, horse-racing stewards may have more at stake than offending irate players and fans.

In the Sydney Cup, a horse named Almoonqith broke down about half way through the race (near the finish line on the first lap) at Royal Randwick, causing two jockeys in the fourteen-horse field to fall.  Because the jockeys and the injured horse (subsequently euthanized) were on the ground, the stewards make a snap judgment to stop the race and declare a “no race.”

Randwick does not have sirens to alert jockeys, so the stewards radioed the official starter, who yelled at the riders as they came to the 800-meter mark.  However, approximately half the jockeys apparently did not hear and rode on and finished the race.

In the aftermath, the stewards were subject to a hail of criticism–by jockeys, trainers, and a host of others–for their decision.  Others approved of the choice.

The stewards were in a “no-win” situation in which there was no time for analysis.  Had they not stopped the race and another wreck had occurred on the second lap, the criticism would have been unrelenting that the stewards abandoned safety concerns.

If any rebuke is justified it is that Royal Randwick was derelict in not having a siren system in place to warn jockeys.  (Would Churchill Downs’ stewards be able to stop the Kentucky Derby if a pileup occurred soon after the start and endangered the rest of the field as it came into the stretch for the second time?)

Stewards normally have ample time and video/photos to assist them in making decisions, but sometimes they have to act without hesitation on gut instinct, weighing the negatives of calling off a race in progress against safety concerns for riders and horses.

The Sydney Cup has been rescheduled for April 22.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

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