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Note to the Maryland Stewards

If a video review of the Preakness is really deemed necessary -- make it count

by Seth Merrow

According to an article on Bloodhorse.com last week, "The Maryland Racing Commission has decided to review the stewards' tape of the Preakness Stakes to determine whether they can shed further light on exactly what happened [to Barbaro]."

Let me start by saying that I see no real purpose in this exercise. Perhaps I would be more favorable to this examination if someone could come up with a good answer to this question: What is the best-case-scenario outcome of this review?

The genesis of this scrutiny is, of course, last month's declaration by Maryland Jockey Club prez Lou Raffetto Jr that after reviewing the tape he is, "saying it with about 80 percent certainty" that Brother Derek's right front foot hit Barbaro's right hind foot about 200 yards into the race.

As we said right here on equidaily.com the day after the comments by Mr Raffetto: The head-on replay of the incident that NBC showed was obviously shot with some kind of tele-photo lens, which distorts perspective, making it difficult to truly tell how close horses' legs are to one another. We feel a more comprehensive look, syncing up the various shots -- pan, overhead, head-on -- would really be necessary before deciding with "about 80 percent certainty" that this theory is correct.

Randy Moss on NTRA.com had similar thoughts, writing, "An examination of NBC's isolated Preakness replay of Barbaro shows with almost 100% certainty that this [Brother Derek hitting Barbaro] is not the case."

So again, What is the best-case-scenario outcome of this review?

There are two possibilities: The stewards look at the videotape and decide it's inconclusive, in which case, big deal -- why did they bother? Or, they decide that indeed Brother Derek did hit Barbaro, in which case -- well, in which case, what?!?

It really has the look of an effort to somehow exonerate the track vet. Because the NBC coverage never showed any clear-cut evidence of the examining vet scrutinizing Barbaro after he broke through the gate, some criticism has been leveled that either no true examination took place -- or it was cursory at best.

In the article where Mr Raffetto claimed his 80% certainty he also noted that his goal wasn't to deflect attention from anything that might or might not have happened with the people at the gate, saying, "We don't feel like we need to defend ourselves."

But what else can the objective of this video scrutiny be? And, in fact, it's probably not a bad idea to clear the vet.

However, the best way to do that is to get some video evidence supporting Dr Zipf's claim that after the breakthrough, he, "went through the stall [Barbaro] was in and followed him back around. Once he was gathered up (by an outrider) and turned around, the first thing I looked for was head trauma or abrasions or cuts. I then walked behind him as he trotted back to make sure, leg-wise that there was no problem."

The critics, complainers, and "conspiracy theorists" simply never saw any indication of that examination on the national telecast. So the Maryland Jockey Club's easiest course of action would be to find video evidence of the vet eye-balling Barbaro post-breakthrough and pre-reload. Certainly NBC, with a myriad of cameras covering the event, must have such footage.

The most logical footage to check would be the tape from the blimp. The wide-shot provided by the blimp would surely show Dr Zipf in attendance to Barbaro.

Would this end the debate? Probably not. As we noted in a previous commentary on this subject, there is an entire sub-culture out there -- we named them "spurts -- who seem to find their joy in this sport by tearing it down. For them the Barbaro injury just provides fodder for complaints. So no, they won't be satisfied to see Dr Zipf on video. But it will provide some kind of answer for most rational people.

All that said, if the Maryland Racing Commission really feels this video investigation is necessary I would propose that at least they do it right. While sitting around a TV monitor going through footage frame-by-frame might provide some insight -- as someone who has been producing television for twenty years, I would suggest they enlist the services of a forensic video specialist.

Provide that person with all the available footage: Pimlico's head-on and pans shots, NBC's head-on and pan shots as well as their isolated shots and the blimp coverage.

Let the video professional digitize all of that footage and then synchronize it. Then replay it on a computer so that the various angles can be matched side-by-side and truly scrutinized in the detail this deserves.

Again, ultimately I'm not sure what questions this exercise will answer -- but if it's decided that it's necessary, then do it right and put it through a level of scrutiny that will exhaust the possibility that any stone was left unturned.


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