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The Red Mile Fiasco & Answers to Questions

As most now know, the Tattersalls Pace on Saturday which showed (one blatantly and one with the other foot) two drivers dropping their feet from the stirrups to strike their boot on the horses hocks to scare them (known, outside Kentucky, I guess, as "booting"), has continued to spawn controversy.

Last evening, after customer and fan complaints, the judge at the Red Mile spoke, and said the following:
  • "Unless the horse is being abused I don't have a problem with the kicking," he said. "I would rather see that than have them thumping on them with the whip. If you watch the head-ons here most of the drivers use the inside foot. I know Tim did use the outside foot on him real late in the stretch. Personally, kicking does not bother me unless they are swinging their foot. If it's just contact with the leg, the hock, that's better than beating them with the whip." Williams said no action will be taken against Tetrick or Sears.
What looked like an obvious fine is now nothing. As is the case often in any sport, or business, the explanation can soothe, or stoke the fires. In this case, Mr. Williams decided to pour gasoline on it. The above, contrasted with the letters to the editor after his published explanation, provided a glimpse into how far a gap there is between those who view and bet and love the sport, versus those whom operate it.

For those who do not know, a hock kick is not dissimilar to a buzzer in thoroughbred racing. Both scare a horse to go faster by frightening him or her and both are banned for that reason. The sport kicked out famous driver Walter Case for doing it years ago too many times.

A good explanation from this blog on Saturday, by an observer:
  •  Tetrick does this religiously with his right foot. He drops it down so the heal of his foot hits the hock as it is coming back towards him. The horse gets scared out of its mind. It thinks that a predator is nipping at it's hind legs and runs faster and longer then it normally would to try to out run it.
I have seen or received a number of questions and interesting thoughts on social media and via email. I will try and cover those below.

Q: "What is he [the Red Mile judge] talking about? Isn't dropping the feet out of the stirrup to strike a horse with the foot exactly what booting is, which is against the rules?

A: Yes. In fact, all you have to do is look at other fines, with the exact same horse, that Mr. Tetrick was fined for before. It was not for hauling off like a field goal kicker for the NY Giants (I have no idea how a driver could do that without killing himself), it was for doing the exact same thing. At Tioga Downs just four weeks ago (ignore the fine amounts, I think they have been the same since 1945 and I am only half kidding, so in today's dollars they should be much higher)

Licensee: TIMOTHY A. TETRICK
Licensed As: DRIVER
Notice Number: TD 57-2013
Racing Type: Harness
Track: Tioga Downs
Notice Date: 09/04/2013
Ruling Type: Fine
Rule(s): 4117.8 [c]
Ruling Text:
You are hereby fined the sum of $250.00 reduced to $100.00 without an appeal for violation of rule 4117.8 [c].  While driving #1 (Captaintreacherous) in the 10th race on September 2, 2013 you did kick your horse.  Any further violation of this rule will result in increased penalties.
Fined: $100


Q: Has the Kentucky judge gone rogue and decided to make up his own rulebook?

A: I don't know what's in his mind, but it does seem to make little sense. He saw the boot strike the hock, which is a penalty everywhere, in every juridsiction I have seen and he has decided to let it go. Would the NFL call a horse collar tackle in Buffalo but the ref in Nashville lets it go?

Q, via DM on twitter from an insider:  How can the same KY Commission that fired Veitch after the BC incident at CD, do nothing to the Red Mile steward that condones flagrant rule breaking?

A: Good question. I really don't know. Is it good that a storied track like the Red Mile will allow this and green light it so everyone can now do it? Of course not. I guess we'll see what the response is, but if this was thoroughbred racing and a steward saw a buzzer being used, and said "I don't have a problem with buzzers unless it abuses the horse" he'd probably be on the next bus to coal country.

Q: Now that it's deemed okay to strike a horse with your foot at the Red Mile, what stops drivers from putting spikes or nails on the inside of their boot?

A: It's a ridiculous question yes, but it caused some chatter on chat boards. It shows when we don't apply the rules, things get muddy. What would the fine be? I don't know, I guess it would be "breaking a rule, that's not really a rule in Kentucky, but doing it really mean". Or something like that.

Q: The Red Mile judge said he'd rather see hock kicking instead of egregious whipping.  Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't whipping in the stifles, below the shaft or in the crotch already against the rules?

A: Yes, most are covered under "indiscriminate use of the whip" and it is against the rules. This straw man argument is so intellectually dishonest it should not even be addressed. It's like a judge saying spousal abuse should not be charged because if a jerk can't hit his life partner with an iron he can use a toaster. Here's a novel thought: If a driver boots a horse, fine and suspend him. If he resorts to using the whip to the crotch because he can't boot, fine him and suspend him. (and we saw both on Saturday).

Q: Is this because it's harness racing "royalty"? And: If bending an ear near the stretch to make a thoroughbred go faster was seen on camera at next month's Breeders Cup NBC would talk about it. Why isn't the mainstream harness trade press covering it?

A: I don't know, but harness racing has been called "insular". A poster on a chat board illustrates just how murky this becomes and provides an explanation that might suffice [sic]:
  •   there is a point to be made about hurting a horse, certainly............but its irelevant because the rule is no booting the hocks, whether it hurts or not..Tetrick is one of many who break that rule, but  a guy who is not part of the royalty of racing. mark Beckwith, gets jammed up because he did it.......im  waiting for the day for a guy like  Chad Rozema to run after tetrick to the winner circle and say " so Tim i guess you felt the need to whack the horses hock  there, explain to the viewing public why that was necessary?'.......the irony of that  scenario is that Rozema would lose his job, and tetrick would continue to boot horses..
Q: If a rule can be interpreted differently by someone, is there any chance of getting universal rules in harness racing?

A: I don't know, I will tell you after my prom date with Charlize Theron, but I have to finish my paper route on Mars first. 

Q: Do we need an asterisk on World records at the Red Mile?

A: A funny question. It is weird that at Mohawk this is called, but at the Red Mile it isn't. If you believe it is worth a length or two, maybe you have a point.

Q: Who cares if they kick horses?

A: Some do. A post here Sunday got 80 Facebook shares (which is a record for this blog), spawned hundreds of comments and retweets, and was a record traffic post for this blog on a Sunday since its inception in 2007. It looks bad, it gets people fired up, and it's 2013. People don't stand for this stuff any longer and it makes the sport harder to sell. Plus, harness racing is spending a whack of cash on social media. Try putting out a good picture there when everyone is talking about kicking the horses. Like someone said on this blog in the comments section Saturday "Harness racing looks like it lives in the 10th century." If you want to sell that tagline, go to it.

Q: Isn't Walter Case rolling over in his grave?

A: Ha! Walter is alive and well, but he must be shaking his head. As everyone knows, he was crushed by racing because of too many "feet out of stirrup fines". I bet he wished he raced in Kentucky.

That's it for now. I will keep you posted on this story.

Related: 
Social Media reacts to "booting" at the Red Mile
Racefans Upset at Red Mile judge, Responds to Harness Racing Update


Comments

Anonymous said…
There is a main stream harness press?
Anonymous said…
I think it was you-mightve been someone else- who about 6 months ago said racing better get ahold of this issue and deal with it before it blows up. Well-It blowed up real good.
Anonymous said…
It's simple. There's a rule in the book stating drivers can't kick - so call the rule. If you don't want to call it then take it out of the book. Horse racing judges are the worst officials in any professional sport. They have as much time as they need to make a decision and they have multiple cameras and angles and they still botch calls and turn a blind eye to violations such as these ones. Clearly many officials need retraining.
Liz O'Connell said…
Is there accessible video of this race?