Thoughts on the Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby No Longer Horse Race But Is Taking Its Place Among The Great Rodeos Of The World…Hello, Cheyenne, Calgary, Las Vegas And Even The Fort Worth Stock Show And Rodeo

Churchill Downs Stewards Were So Right And So Wrong In Disqualifying Maximum Security In The Derby Which Has Become An Extremely Dangerous Rodeo

The Kentucky Derby? I remain somewhat confused, extremely angry and, most of all, sad beyond words that Maximum Security became the first horse ever disqualified after winning this great American classic. That's quite a record for a Thoroughbred race that has been run 145 times. In the previous 144, there were a total of seven foul claims-none allowed.
In a matter of just 22 minutes following the finish of the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby, historic Churchill Downs and all of Thoroughbred racing owned one of the biggest disasters in sports history-made even worse because the general public has little understanding of horse racing and will for years remain baffled by what happened.
How could an undefeated horse who led wire-to-wire to win the race be disqualified and placed 17th? Those who bet on Maximum Security "know" they have been jobbed and will collect none of the $9.2 million they were supposed to receive on their bets. First to 17th gets you nothing.

To assure I am not blind, and know how to watch a race, whether it's a $1,500 mule classic at the state fair or the $3 million Kentucky Derby, there unquestionably was a foul in the race-at the 5/16th pole and not at the head of the stretch where most figured it happened, led to believe that because of a lack of information shared with the public.
At the 5/16th pole, Maximum Security shied from the crowd noise and veered into the paths of War of Will, Bodexpress and and Long Range Toddy. The connections of War of Words and Bodexpress declined  to claim foul, but jockey Jon Court on Long Range Toddy did, even though he finished 17th. Court had every right to do that and probably was extremely angry he almost got dropped.
Court's foul claim was the point at which the train started coming off the tracks

 

Some Day, A Jockey Is Going To Get Killed In The Derby

As a bit of background I come to this table well-qualified to opine on the business at hand. I served five years as Director of Public Relations at Churchill Downs and later went legit and became a jockey agent,  and three of my clients won more than 11,000 races.
It is my strong opinion the Kentucky Derby has become one of the biggest rodeos on the continent. Even the atheists among jockeys riding in the race ask for God's blessing, a safe trip and to return from the 1 1/4th mile race alive. I have never heard of a jockey praying to win the race. Just keep me safe and get me back alive and in one piece.
There is no question the Kentucky Derby is the most dangerous race in the country because the track suits, in all their greed and quest for money, permit 20 horses to start. Each of the starters pay $25,000 to enter and another $25,000 to start. That is $1 million of the purse money the track does not have to post. Throw in the fees to nominate to the race, and add another $1 million from a sponsor and the track gets a free roll.
And the rodeo begins. Hello the Calgary Stampede, the Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne, the the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo and the National Rodeo Championships in Las Vegas.

 

WHEN THE RULES ARE NOT THE RULES

Kentucky racing rules state a horse must maintain a straight course through the running of an entire race. No dispute from me. The rule protects both horse and jockey and prevents playing pinball wizard by intentionally or unintentionally bouncing off competing horses-something that can put them in dangerous spots.
But does the letter of the law have to be followed in all races? No, no and no.
Stewards certainly must enforce the rules but temper then with good judgement and insight. The rules governing the 4th at Penn National are not the same rules used for the Kentucky Derby, nor should they be. The Derby is different for many reasons and all must become part of the equation governing foul claims.

  1. The fact 20 horses are allowed to start in the race sets the stage for strange and unusual things to happen. Some participants have been running in nothing but six-seven horse fields in their prep races and are very uncomfortable with 20 challengers.
  2. Jockeys are all at least as uncomfortable as are the horses they ride.
  3. In this Kentucky Derby the track was sloppy and even more dangerous than usual. Most of the participants had never ran in the slop and were now being ask to go a mile and a quarter in it.
  4. Some horses are impacted by crowd noise and shy from it as they try to figure out what it is all about. At Churchill, they hear the noise coming from both sides of the track and none have ever experienced that.

The bottom line is simply that while the stewards must enforce the rules, they must temper their judgment by recognizing all the new and strange things that can and do distract horses. The foul claim by Court was justified but it triggered all the wrong things.
While focusing on the foul at the 5/16th pole, the stewards went into the mode they would use for a foul claim in the 4th at Charlestown, losing all contract with the Kentucky Derby and its importance in the overall picture and future of already much-criticized Thoroughbred racing.
As noted earlier, the officials did everything right-and at the same time everything wrong.
When it was over, the sport was left with a "bastard" Kentucky Derby winner, a meaningless Triple Crown and an offended public. Racing may never recover from May 4, 2019.
I would like to say things could not get worse than this, but that song was being sung 25 years ago and year-by-things get worse. Hope? A soft maybe. Reality says this transition into a full-blown rodeo will continued unabated-until a jockey is killed or until there are are four-five horses are splattered all over the track, waiting for the meat wagon.
Sorry I feel this way, but I do. As one who truly loves the gallant Thoroughbred, I cannot stand to watch.