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Stewards usually ultimate arbiters on the track

In this June 6, 1998, file photo, Victory

In this June 6, 1998, file photo, Victory Gallop and jockey Gary Stevens (11) edge out Real Quiet and jockey Kent Desormeaux as they cross the finish line to win the Belmont Stakes horse race at Belmont Park in Elmont. Credit: AP / Bill Kostroun

To assure that there will be no horsing around in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, three racetrack stewards -- the umpires of their sport -- will be monitoring the proceedings. And, beyond what they themselves might determine to be untoward, they will be available for video scrutiny should a jockey claim a foul by a colleague.

The likelihood of a disqualification is minuscule. In the previous 145 Belmonts, there has been only one DQ, and that failed to affect those finishing in the money. In 2010, Uptowncharlybrown, having lost his eight-pound lead pad on the backstretch (and thereby gaining the advantage of being underweight) was bounced from fifth to last.

Still, given the dynamics of having 1,200-pound animals approaching 40 miles per hour in the stampede toward fame and fortune, with extremely competitive jockeys angling for any edge, the stewards have "a difficult job," David Hicks said.

Now 85, Hicks was working the 1998 Belmont that came closest to a controversial overrule, when Real Quiet was denied the Triple Crown by Victory Gallop's nose. The official racing chart described Real Quiet "bumping twice with the winner in deep stretch." Victory Gallop's jockey, Gary Stevens informed the outriders that, if the photo didn't confirm victory, he would claim a foul.

"Real Quiet goes out and bothers him a couple of times," Hicks recalled by phone from his Florida home. "As far as we [stewards] were concerned, Victory Gallop beat him. God only knows what would have happened" if a steward's call had been required, and the result changed.

"If [a foul] is there, it means he's forcing the other horse out or forcing him in, or causing the jockey to take hold of his horse," Hicks said. "Sometimes it might just be a brush. You have to use common sense and some judgment. But that's what we do."

Hicks had 53 years of experience as a steward at tracks in New York, Florida and Pennsylvania. He remembered how, in the late 1980s, representatives of The Jockey Club, Thoroughbred Racing Associations and Association of Racing Commissioners International set up a steward certification program at the University of Louisville.

Stewards were shown film of races to judge, given written tests, advised by a lawyer "on due process and hearings and so forth." Stewards actually could be sued by an unhappy owner regarding a disqualification, fine or suspension, though Hicks said he never was. Beyond the race itself, stewards have the power to crack down on trainers for such violations as not bringing a horse to the paddock on time, for exercise riders' dangerous tactics in training sessions or not wearing a helmet during workouts.

It was the decision of Belmont stewards that Triple Crown candidate California Chrome could continue wearing a nose strip to help his breathing in Saturday's race. And it was the stewards' jurisdiction to sign off on history's only disqualification of a champion in a Triple Crown race.

That was the 1968 Kentucky Derby, when Dancer's Image was found, in a postrace urinalysis, to have traces of a painkiller commonly used to relieve joint inflammation. Runner-up Forward Pass was declared the winner and followed that with a Preakness victory, but denied the Triple Crown by Stage Door Johnny -- co-owned, by the way, by then Mets owner Joan Payson.

The most famous DQ ever? After Affirmed completed his 1978 Triple Crown run, he met rival Alydar again in the Travers at Saratoga. Affirmed again got to the finish line first, but only after a frightening near-collision along the rail, cutting off Alydar. Some reports said that Alydar might have been killed had he fallen.

The stewards ruled an Alydar victory. The crowd booed.

New York Sports