Moore: Fear and Loathing After the Kentucky Derby

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Jockey Irad Ortiz gets a horse ready to run at Belmont one day last year.

Editor’s Note: Yes, I bet Maximum Security and was hurt financially by the decision. But I didn’t bet much money in the race, and the decision only cost me about $100.

Perhaps what was most ironic about Saturday’s Kentucky Derby disqualification fiasco was the reaction by the fans on social media and elsewhere.

For the most part, casual fans, who go to the track or off track betting sites two to three times per year, were incensed by the disqualification. Whereas, by and large, seasoned racing fans who bet on horses regularly, not just when the races are on broadcast television, defended the God awful call.

In other words, the people who should know better came off as ignorant. And those who could be excused for misunderstanding why the decision was terrible, loathed the bad judgement of the Kentucky stewards.

At first blush: it’s puzzling. But after giving it some thought, it’s really not all that surprising since horseplayers constantly surprise me by not knowing things you’d think were second nature to students of The Sport of Kings.

In any event, Andy Beyer, one of handicapping’s patron saints, laid out, in very good detail, why the decision was terrible.

Astute Analysis

Here’s a link to his astute analysis in the Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/the-kentucky-derby-decision-was-a-bad-one-country-house-never-had-a-chance-of-winning/2019/05/06/59a584b4-701c-11e9-8be0-ca575670e91c_story.html

First thing, there’s been some confusion as to why Country House, who finished second and was therefore declared the winner when Maximum Security, who easily crossed the finish line in first place, was the main beneficiary of the decision.

That’s because when a horse impedes a rival in some way (bumping, cutting off, and even biting) the horse that was guilty of the infraction is placed directly behind the horse who suffered the infraction. As one can see, that’s why a horse who wasn’t bothered, in this case, Country House, often benefits from these situations the most.

Secondly, some people are asking why the stewards themselves didn’t initiate the foul claim and instead it was initiated by a jockey. That’s also not uncommon. Stewards, understandably, are unable to see some of the fouls that take place on the track and it makes sense to allow jockeys to be able to claim foul. (Sometimes, it’s the trainer who claims the foul and the situation is investigated.)

All that being said, the decision was neither fair to the bettors nor good for the sport.

Yes, the decision cost me money.

Yes, Maximum Security veered out three paths at the far turn. He did cause another horse, War of Will, to “take up” in order to prevent making contact with Maximum Security.

Totally Capricious Rules

Some “fans” are alleging that that means the situation is cut and dry, and the horse should be taken down.

But those of us who follow the game on an almost religious basis know that’s not the case.

To change a horse’s order of finish, the foul should be egregious and obvious. Yet in this instance, the infraction was anything but.

I’ve watched the replay several times. I can’t see, certainly not with indisputable evidence, the two horses making contact with one another. (I’m not saying there needs to be contact for a disqualification, but 9 times out of 10, that’s what stewards look for when they’re making such important decisions.)

Further, if I had a dollar every time a horse I bet found himself stuck on the rail, and then was forced to “check” or slow down in order to avoid another horse in front of him–well, I’d have lots of money. Yet that’s simply not what happens.

Inconsistent Rulings

Instead, we simply curse the jockey riding the horse we’ve bet for “getting the horse in trouble”.

In the same respect, some folks who should know better, have argued that the same rules should apply for all horses in all races. Bill Mott, who trains Country House, said that if the race was a 10,000 maiden claiming race (a race for horses that have never won before) the horse would be disqualified. That’s not true. And he knows it.

In fact, stewards are known for giving maidens MORE leeway, during races, since they’re inexperienced.

Similarly, there should be more leeway in the Kentucky Derby, since there are so many horses in the race.

What was the worst part of the disqualification is the fact that it reeks of favoritism. Mott is beloved by horse racing’s “in” crowd. Jason Servis, who trains Maximum Security, is, for some reason widely disliked. In other words, it looked a lot like the insiders taking care of one of their own.

Don’t Let Them Fool You, It’s Not About Safety

All that can do is bring bad press to the sport, at a time when it needs as much good press as possible.

Those who were happy with the decision can claim it will enhance safety. But they’re either naive or ignorant. Horse racing has no universal standards for disqualifications. The stewards are allowed to make up the rules as they go along.

It needs to be that way. If there were clear cut rules, how would the insiders be able to take care of their friends, like Mott, and punish outsiders like Servis?

Russell Moore
I like writing, reading, horse racing, basketball, football, tennis, poker, shooting dice, and nerd stuff. You should definitely follow me on twitter @russmoore713. If you want to send me email in order to tell me how great I am, you can do that at russmoore713@gmail.com
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