Like every horse racing industry friend I have across the country, the minute it was announced there was an objection in the Kentucky Derby, our phones and social media accounts started blowing up.
Our friends that are casual race fans immediately wanted to know what happened and how would it turn out. It was an educational experience for many of these friends, but like everyone else, I wish it occurred under different circumstances.
Even Sunday morning I was still getting questions, so I figured it’s time to write something out for the casual fan. Following is a question and answer format that I hope will help explain things to people that may only watch 1-3 days of horse racing a year.
In case you live in a cave and just came up for air, here is a brief synopsis of what happened in the Kentucky Derby. Maximum Security ended up crossing the finish line first, but two jockeys filed objections against the horse and its jockey for coming out side and impeding the progress of their horses as they turned for home.
After a review that topped 20 minutes, the three stewards – horse racings version of officials – ruled unanimously that Maximum Security did impede the progress of a number of horses and disqualified him from winning, placing him 18th (below the last horse he interfered with in the lane).
Following are most of the questions I got and how I answered them.
*Was it the right call?
Yes, according to the rules of racing it was the right call, popular or not. I told my wife right as it happened, oh, they are going to take a look after the race. To me it was obvious right as it happened that Maximum Security came out and nearly clipped heels with War of Will. The move off the inside portion of the track forced War of Will and his jockey to check-up hard. The stunning part of the incident to me was that the stewards didn’t call for an inquiry right after the race. If the two jockeys had not objected, the results would have stood. My guess is the stewards were trying to take the easy way out and not say a word. Once the jockeys put them on the spot, then they had no choice. The important point here is that it wasn’t just the jockey on Country House – the horse that got moved up to first and seemed unaffected – that lodged a complaint, but also the jockey on Long Range Toddy, a horse that was definitely impacted. Most only think it was the Country House jockey.
*Did they have to make the call?
Since they didn’t post the inquiry sign, I am thinking they were trying to avoid the situation. From my perspective I could have lived with no call, but the simple fact is, it was interference. The bottom line – there was no way to make everyone happy. If they had let the race stand, some people would have been bitching and whining, much they way many are now. As far as the stewards, it was a no-win situation.
What do you think happened?
Just like jockey Luis Saez said, Maximum Security got spooked by the noise of the crowd as they turned for home and moved out. He tried his best to make the correction, but these are powerful animals and by the time Saez got the horse back inside, the damage had been done.
Do you think he meant to do it?
Not at all. There was nearly a major catastrophe. If those horses had clipped heels – and they just missed – a number of horses could have gone down. Intent has nothing to do with the decision, but rather it is based on what happened. I thought Saez did all he could, and it was amazing he got the horse back to the inside. You could tell Saez knew there was going to be an issue in his post-race interview when he started making excuses for the horse.
*But it seemed like Maximum Security was the best horse is the race and none of the others were going to win. How is that fair?
Yes, he was the best horse and he very likely was going to win the race, but that doesn’t matter in this situation. It stinks that this happened as Maximum Security, as I said in my preview, may turn out to be a monster horse. Unfortunately, even if he never loses another race in his career, he will not officially be the Kentucky Derby winner. But it was the right decision and based on that, fair. It stinks, but I think had they not made the call it would have been worse for the sport.
*Why did it take so long?
If you are going to disqualify the Kentucky Derby winner, you better be sure. The stewards did their due diligence in making the decision. Unknown to the casual fan, not only did they have to decide to disqualify him, but they had to figure out how far down to drop him. That meant painstakingly looking at the tape to figure out all the horses impacted and where they finished. They had to place Maximum Security 17th, one spot below Long Range Toddy. If this had happened on the California Fair circuit with their six-horse fields, this decision would have been reached in less than five minutes. But when you are talking about the biggest race of the year, you better dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s”.
*Does this give horse racing a bad name? I mean public perception is pretty bad right now.
It doesn’t necessarily help, but not as bad had there been a mishap with horses going down. That would have given the legion of PETA soldiers a national platform, even bigger than the one they have been given by The Stronach Group. But here’s an interesting thought – people are talking about the race everywhere. I would have not thought so many of my non-horse racing friends were watching the race until I started hearing from them right after the race. The buzz is still going on Sunday which is much longer than the Derby usually generates among the causal fan. I think the interest for the Preakness will be great this year because the casual fan will want to see what happens moving forward.
*What does happen moving forward?
As of Sunday, the owners of Maximum Security were hinting they may skip the Preakness and head to the Belmont Stakes. I think a lot of that may be bitterness still resonating from having the Derby taken away. I am hoping they cool off and make the decision to run in two weeks. A “re-match” in the Preakness would generate a lot of buzz and give the Maximum Security team a chance to send a message. If the result would have stood, we would very likely be looking at a horse going for the Triple Crown heading into the Belmont Stakes. Now, I give Country House little or no chance to win the Preakness whether or not Maximum Security runs.
Conclusion: It wasn’t a good feeling coming away from the race. Maximum Security and his team had the highest of highs come crashing down. It’s excruciating waiting for the result. I was standing on the track at the Breeders’ Cup when Jeff Bonde’s She’s A Tiger was disqualified after winning the Juvenile Fillies in 2013. Being right in the middle of the She’s A Tiger team it felt like a big punch to the stomach after thinking we had won the race. On the flip side, for the Country House group, the excitement of winning the Derby was subdued as well. You stand there for 20 minutes and then have someone say, oh you won. Sure, they were happy, but it wasn’t that unbridled joy you get when your horse crosses the line first. The decision has been made. Popular or not, it’s time to move on.
By Dennis Miller