Horsing Around With Race Results

The biggest news out of the 2019 Kentucky Derby wasn’t which horse won the race, but which horse DIDN’T win the race. Maximum Security crossed the finish line a length and a half ahead of Country House, but he was not ultimately the winner of the 145th Run For The Roses. How can this be? Well, there was some procedural horsing around with race results.

To no one’s surprise, Maximum Security, the odds-on favorite to win the race, led from wire to wire. But his victory was short lived and was never official. Two jockeys in the race, Frenchman Flavien Prat and Jon Court, claimed foul immediately after the race triggering an official review by a committee of three race stewards.

What happened? Good question. During the 22 minutes while the race was under review by the stewards, television replayed clips of the alleged foul repeatedly and from various camera angles. Even in slow motion I didn’t see anything done wrong, but then, I’m neither a jockey nor a race steward.

So the experts say, Maximum Security bumped into War of Will who then hit Country House. Sounds like a set up for a game of dominoes. But none of the horses fell down, and the race continued.

Track conditions were less than favorable for the race. Heavy rains began in the hour and a half prior to post-time (official time for the race when all horses have to be at the starting line), making the track surface sloppy. The adverse weather also rained on the hat parade, forcing spectators to cover the showpieces on their heads with plastic. Shots of jockeys after the race revealed them to be splattered with mud.

Maximum Security’s jockey, 27 year old Panamanian Luis Saez, was interviewed about the claimed foul while the stewards’ decision was pending. He indicated that his horse may have lost his footing a bit in the mud and was probably startled by the crowd noise. I think I’d be startled too if 105,729 people were all screaming at the same time.

Meanwhile waaaay upstairs, the stewards committee reviewed clips of the alleged foul and interviewed jockeys involved. The stewards may have been six stories above the track, but they were under a microscope. Cameras were trained on them as they deliberated. They were obviously very intent on reviewing the evidence and could be seen pointing to various things on the monitors showing replays.

Waiting for the decision was agonizing. Commentators were forced to tap dance and come up with 22 minutes of commentary on a totally unexpected situation. The poor jockey who had ridden Maximum Security seemed in shock and dazed by the microphones and questions peppering him. The celebratory mood of the spectators turned to bewilderment. And then, at last, came the big decision. The crowd greeted it with booing.

Maximum Security’s place in Kentucky Derby history was secured by this decision, but not in the way the horse’s jockey, trainer, owners, or spectators who had bet on Maximum Security desired. He was disqualified for interference. Specifically, Maximum Security was unanimously judged by the stewards to have blocked the paths of several horses by changing lanes without clearance. i.e., he moved off his lane before he was clear of outside horses. Should he have used a blinker before changing lanes, then?

You’ve got to hand it to those stewards. They are an eagle-eyed and academic bunch. They were able to detect Maximum Security moving out of his lane on the final turn and bumping into the right hind leg of War of Will. (Enquiring minds want to know how many times they replayed the race clip to spot this foul.) I’ll bet the stewards have Section 12 of Rule 810 KAR1:016 memorized. Of course, they knew off the top of their heads that disqualification was required when a horse swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with any other horse or jockey. Rule 810?? How many rules can there be for a simple horse race?

This shocking decision by the stewards resulted in the first time ever that a horse making it to the wire first at the Kentucky Derby was disqualified on site. It was even bigger news than the fact the oldest jockey ever to race in the Kentucky Derby, 58 year old Jon Court on Long Range Toddy, took part in the 2019 event and that the first ever Japanese bred horse, Master Fencer, was one of the 19 three year old horses in the 2019 race. Yea, those are interesting facts, but fans thrive on controversy.

Because Maximum Security was deemed to have impeded other horses in the final turn before the home stretch, Country House was elevated to the winner’s position. Holy cow! (Or should it be holy horse?) That meant a horse with 65-1 post-time odds won the race. Lucky spectators who had bet on Country House received $132.40–the second highest payout in Derby history. I came away empty-handed myself, but then again, I didn’t bet.

While Country House rose in the official order of finish, Maximum Security was booted way down. He was dropped to a 17th place finish behind the horses he affected. His thrill of victory was quickly followed by the agony of a heart-wrenching defeat.

Country House will not go on to vie for the Triple Crown. He has a cough, and it has been announced he will not run in the Preakness. Running around outside in the rain at Churchill Downs probably gave him a cold.

Meanwhile, Maximum Security’s owners can’t wrap their heads around their horse’s victory having been snatched away. Owner Gary West described the decision as “egregious” and appealed to the Kentucky Racing Commission. The appeal was summarily dismissed Monday because race fouls are judgment calls made by a committee of race stewards, and a ruling by track officials is not subject to an appeal. Legal options are now being considered despite the fact that no horse owner has ever successfully appealed outcome of a horse race in Kentucky. Moreover, successful appeals of stewards’ decisions are rare nationally.

Maximum Security does have one high profile figure in his corner. President Trump tweeted that the Kentucky Derby decision was “not a good one.” Unfortunately for Maximum Security, the president’s opinion does not trump that of the committee of race stewards.

Right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or imperfect, horse racing is a sport which is set up to involve judgment calls. Let’s leave the decision-making to the track officials and keep the courts out of this one. Aren’t the courts busy enough as it is? And I expect Maximum Security’s owners to respond to my opinion like Col. Potter in “MASH” would–“Horse hockey!”

Just WONDER-ing: Did you watch the 2019 Kentucky Derby? If so, could you spot the alleged foul committed by Maximum Security? Should determinations made by sports officials be dragged into court for review?










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