A new era in the adjudication of in-race interference comes to North America next week.
In February, the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission (OHRC) became the first to announce an intention to adopt new interference rules modeled on the Category 1 interference philosophy in place across the vast majority of the developed racing world.
The rule changes were approved subsequently by the Oklahoma’s legislature and governor, and will be in place across the state’s tracks beginning Wednesday, September 14 at Remington Park.
“This is an exciting step,” said Patrick Cummings, Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF).
“We are now one step closer to global rules harmonization around in-race interference and I anticipate we will see both an increase in the consistency of decision-making and a decrease in what many believe, including stewards, are unjust demotions due to the way in which many states’ rules are written.”
TIF has advocated for states to consider shifting to the Category 1 standard since 2018, publishing a white paper (“Changing The Rules”) late that year.
These new interference rules for Oklahoma will change how stewards determine if a demotion is warranted.
Under the old rules, which followed the philosophy known as Category 2, if a horse interfered with a rival at almost any point in a race, and the stewards believed that the horse that suffered the interference may have been cost a better placing, the horse that caused the interference could be demoted and placed behind the horse that suffered the interference.
With the Category 1 philosophy, the question the stewards consider regarding interference changes.
If the stewards determine interference occurred, they now must identify if the horse that suffered the interference would have finished ahead of the horse that caused the interference, had the incident never happened.
TRAINING THE OKLAHOMA STEWARDS
While the Category 1 philosophy has been actively discussed in seminars held by the Racing Officials Accreditation Program, the main accrediting body for most North American stewards, few active stewards have ever had formal training or guidance on interpreting the rules.
Kelly Cathey, Executive Director of the OHRC, went to top source he could find to oversee training Oklahoma’s racing stewards, requesting assistance from the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Chief Stipendiary Steward, Kim Kelly.
“I met Kim in Saratoga in the summer of 2019 when he spoke on Category 1 extensively at several meetings and really got to thinking over the possibilities as we were updating our rules.”
Kim Kelly (pictured below) has served as chairman of the International Harmonization of Raceday Rules Committee (IHRRC) for the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) and assisted several major racing jurisdictions in making the transition in the last decade.
“When it came to identifying the right person to train our stewards,” Cathey said, “Kim was the go-to guy, and we were honored to have someone of his expertise leading the sessions.”
HKJC Chief Stipendiary Steward Kim KellY
Photo: Hong Kong JOCKEY CLUB
Kelly and his colleague, stipendiary steward Ken Kwok, led a series of Zoom meetings reviewing Category 1 procedures and in which dozens of races, both from Oklahoma, Hong Kong and other jurisdictions were viewed and discussed.
“We also had several guests from other states and representatives from ROAP join the sessions to get an understanding of the direction this is taking,” Cathey said. “Oklahoma is excited to be first in the U.S. to go this way and I think all stakeholders will appreciate the consistency this will bring to adjudicating races.”
For Kim Kelly, assisting a North American jurisdiction with the transition was the culmination of years in pursuit of global harmony on the interference rules.
“It was a great honor to be asked to assist the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission in their transition to the Category 1 interference interpretation. From the very first meeting, I was impressed and encouraged by how receptive the Stewards and Commission staff were to making this change happen,” said Kelly.
“A U.S. state’s decision to shift to Category 1 represents significant progress in the international harmonization of a critical rule of racing. Standardized rules which significantly impact bettors and industry participants, such as owners, is something the IHRRC has been working at for many years.
“The OHRC’s move follows that from the Japan Racing Association in 2013, both France Galop and Germany in 2017, as well as all jurisdictions in South America that switched during those years, and I would not be surprised if more in North America followed Oklahoma’s lead.
“I would like to acknowledge the considerable drive and resolve demonstrated by OHRC Executive Director Kelly Cathey to ensure that the change to Category 1 in Oklahoma is a success.
“The IHRRC will continue to provide further assistance as needed to make the transition to Category 1 as seamless as possible.”
DANGEROUS RIDING PROVISION KEY ELEMENT FOR SAFETY
Expectations for Category 1 implementation include a reduction in the number of demotions which has previously occurred in jurisdictions transitioning to Category 1, including Japan, France and Germany.
“The question the stewards consider,” Cummings said, “is totally different. The stewards must be satisfied that if interference occurred, the horse suffering the interference was going to finish ahead of the horse causing it. While it’s impossible to say how many, that standard will reduce overall demotions in Oklahoma and other states in the future.”
Data presented in TIF’s 2018 paper reflected a total of 65 demotions across races run by the Japan Racing Association in the last three years the country operated under Category 2 rules. In the next five years, only 11 demotions occurred.
“Category 1 rules, however, are not a license for dangerous riding,” Cummings adds, “and Oklahoma importantly adopted a provision to account for incidents where jockeys ride in a dangerous manner.”
The wording of the rule Oklahoma has adopted is below:
“If the Stewards determine a Horse or its rider has caused interference and finished in front of the Horse it interfered with, and if not for the interference the Horse would have finished behind the Horse it interfered with, the interfering Horse shall be placed immediately behind the Horse with which it interfered. If the interference is a result of dangerous riding, the Stewards shall place the interfering Horse in last place.”
The OHRC defined “dangerous riding” as follows:
“Dangerous riding’ means a rider causes a serious infraction by: (A) purposely interfering with another horse or rider; or (B) riding in a way which is far below that of a competent and careful rider and where it would be obvious to a competent and careful rider that riding in that way would likely endanger the safety of another horse or rider.”
The “dangerous riding” addendum is intended as a catch-all provision – if a jockey rides dangerously thinking they cannot be demoted, or even fully disqualified and being treated as if they finished last, think again. Stewards are empowered to have that option should it be needed.
“The jurisdictions which have shifted from Category 2 to Category 1 over the last decade have not experienced any increase in dangerous riding incidents,” said Kim Kelly. “Having this proviso in the rule, which largely mirrors the dangerous riding component in the model rule contained in the IFHA’s International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering, affords the stewards a necessary tool should it be required.”