What The Hill returns in CTC, and lingering thoughts on rules

by Brett Sturman

Sidelined since his controversial disqualification in the Hambletonian over one month ago, What The Hill returns to the races tonight in one of two eliminations at Mohawk for the Canadian Trotting Classic (CTC).

Trained by Ron Burke, What The Hill underwent a procedure for his throat the Monday following the Hambletonian and was tentatively being pointed towards making his return in the Zweig three weeks ago at Vernon Downs. Not quite ready to return by that date, the Muscle Hill—K T Cha Cha colt recently qualified a week ago at Harrah’s Philadelphia where he posted an easy 1:55:4 win while holding off a stakes-caliber horse trained by Julie Miller from the pocket in that qualifier.

If the What The Hill from Hambletonian Day is what shows up in the CTC, he’ll be a force to reckon with. With International Moni in the other CTC elimination, What The Hill faces a group in his elimination that seems widely overmatched on paper. There are still formidable challengers in the likes of Victor Gio It and Bill’s Man, but overall this relatively soft 7-horse field looks like a nice return spot for What The Hill.

Somewhat off-topic from the CTC but relevant to What The Hill, I have lingering thoughts when looking at his past-performance lines; specifically the one from his infamous Hambletonian final.

Despite crossing the line first in a time of 1:52:3, What The Hill was given a notation of TDIS (for Time Disqualified) as his officially charted race time in the Hambletonian. It raises the question about this rule itself, and that is why should a horse have a winning time taken away from him, even he is subsequently disqualified?

Using What The Hill as an example, does the fact he arguably interfered with a non-contending horse take anything away from the fact that he did in fact trot his mile in 1:52:3? I could see the TDIS action taken if a horse crossed the line first but was galloping while doing so, or if he left the course at any point in which the horse wouldn’t have actually went a full mile on the trot, but interference or not, this horse earned that win time. In What The Hill’s case it doesn’t really matter because he already has a lifetime mark of 1:52:1 which is faster than what he would have earned in the Hambletonian, but what if that 1:52:3 from the Hambletonian would have established a new lifetime mark?

In harness racing, a horse’s career lifetime mark (or fastest career winning time) carries tremendous weight when considering the historical ability of a horse, not to mention the ability to market the horse as a stallion. A potential career mark should not be “forgotten” because of a disqualification knowing that the horse did actually earn that time on his own merit.

Conversely, why should the second-placed-first beneficiary of a disqualification have their own individual time from a race count towards their lifetime mark? Doesn’t this go against the very principle of why only winning horses in harness racing have the winning time of a race count towards their record? This isn’t to take anything away from Perfect Spirit, but why should he inherit a win time (which in this case doesn’t matter anyway since he too had already established a faster win time than the Hambletonian final), when other horses who miss by winning a race by a nose don’t have the benefit of having the time of a race qualifying as a potential lifetime mark?

Another burning issue of mine (or pet peeve I guess you could say) is of the ease in which disqualifications are made here in the U.S. and in Canada. Throughout most of Europe and Australia where something truly egregious must occur for there to be a re-placing of the results, what we saw in the Hambletonian would have never resulted in a change of order.

At some point, common sense needs to be used and disqualifying a horse that was clearly the best in a million dollar race needs to be re-examined. As is the case elsewhere where far more money is bet into racing than it is here, race infractions should be met with heavy fines and suspensions towards the involved drivers, but other connections including bettor’s shouldn’t be penalized.

Taking it a step further, almost all of the large bookmakers in Europe have a “first past the post” wagering option meaning that if you bet a horse and that horse crosses the wire first, you would get paid out regardless of the result of any objection or steward’s inquiry. I realize that a separate pari-mutuel pool for that very purpose in North America would never catch on, but it’s yet another demonstration of other jurisdictions taking all possible measures to ensure that horses that cross the wire first are deemed the race winner in all but the most blatant of circumstances.

Back to the Canadian Trotting Classic, it’s quite possible that next week’s final could serve as a springboard for either What The Hill or fellow CTC top contender International Moni, if one of these two are able to win the $684,000 final next week, provided they both qualify for the final (there are only seven horses in What The Hill’s elimination and just six horses in International Moni’s elimination, with five from each elimination making the final).

No one in this division has been able to separate themselves from anyone else despite the absence of Walner, but there is still a ton of stakes racing to go between now and the end of the year and that begins with the CTC.