THE WRONG CALL

Kentucky Derby DQ is a bad look for a struggling sport

Kentucky Derby DQ is a bad look for a struggling sport
Getty Images

Saturday's Kentucky Derby will not be remembered for being a great race, or a horse that did something spectacular.

It will be remembered for a controversial disqualification that not only changed the outcome but also stained America's greatest horse race.

Maximum Security finished first but was disqualified and Country House was gifted the win. Maximum Security was placed 17th, while Code of Honor was placed second and Tacitus third.

Maximum Security was gritty, leading all the way and fighting off several challengers along the way. But the problem came near the top of the stretch, where he drifted out, impeding War of Will and Long Range Toddy slightly. The stewards judged it to be serious enough to warrant the first disqualification for interference in the history of the Derby.

Quite simply, it was a bad call.

Did he interfere? Yes. Did it change the outcome of the race? No. And that should always be the standard. You could argue Long Range Toddy came in as well to help sandwich War of Will. While War of Will did slow down, he had ample opportunity to win after that. He just was not good enough.

The chief steward issued a long and rambling statement that defended their actions. She did not answer questions. Transparency be damned.

The decision put a horse that was not impacted and in fact outrun by the winner in the stretch up to first. He was not close to being the best horse in the race.


Poor decision

The Kentucky Derby is roughly run every year. Much like you can call holding on every play in the NFL, you could DQ a horse each year in the Derby. A 20-horse field (19) this year is never going to get you a clean race.

So why this one?

The official stance from Chief State Steward Barbara Borden.: "We had a lengthy review of the race, we interviewed affected riders and we determined the 7 horse (Maximum Security) drifted out and impacted the progress of No. 1 (War of Will), in turn interfering with the 18 (Long Range Todd) and 21 (Bodexpress). Those horses were all affected, we thought, by the interference, and therefore we unanimously determined to disqualify No. 7 and place him behind No. 18."

The second, third and fourth place finishers were not impacted at all. That three stewards determined it changed the outcome is somewhat bizarre.

The big problem is what is a disqualification in Kentucky might not be one in California or New York. Each jurisdiction is different and consistency is right out the window. In 2014, a horse called Bayern took out half the field at the start of the Breeders' Cup Classic. It was much more egregious than this. Yet no DQ. As a fan, how are we supposed to know what is a foul and what is not? Things like this are driving people like me from the sport.

In 30-plus years covering the sport, I have seen countless DQs. Some helped me. Some hurt. This one actually benefitted me since I had a show bet on Tacitus. But I would rather they get it right. Racing has been taking hits for years, and this year's deaths at Santa Anita have contributed. To add on a controversial decision in the biggest race? It's a bad look. We should be talking about Maximum Security as a potential Triple Crown winner. Instead we are talking about a human decision.

And a bad one.

Looking ahead

The Preakness will be in two weeks, and one thing we can probably count on is the "winner" will not be the favorite in Baltimore. The field is far from set, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Of the horses we liked, Tacitus was a solid third, and with a little more room could have been right there. Game Winner was way too far back early, made a wide late run but did not have enough left. If he runs in Baltimore, expect a better effort.

Hopefully the Preakness will give us a fair race, decided on the track.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Will robot umps improve baseball? Composite Getty Images.

Major League Baseball could test robot umpires as part of a challenge system in spring training next year, which could lead to regular-season use in 2026.

MLB has been experimenting with the automated ball-strike system in the minor leagues since 2019 but is still working on the shape of the strike zone.

“I said at the owners meeting it is not likely that we would bring ABS to the big leagues without a spring training test. OK, so if it’s ’24 that leaves me ’25 as the year to do your spring training test if we can get these issues resolved, which would make ’26 a viable possibility,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday during a meeting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. "But is that going to be the year? I’m not going to be flat-footed on that issue.

“We have made material progress. I think that the technology is good to a 100th of an inch. The technology in terms of the path of the ball is pluperfect.”

Triple-A ballparks have used ABS this year for the second straight season, but there is little desire to call the strike zone as the cube defined in the rule book and MLB has experimented with modifications during minor league testing.

The ABS currently calls strikes solely based on where the ball crosses the midpoint of the plate, 8.5 inches from the front and the back. The top of the strike zone was increased to 53.5% of batter height this year from 51%, and the bottom remained at 27%.

"We do have technical issues surrounding the definition of the strike zone that still need to be worked out,” Manfred said.

After splitting having the robot alone for the first three games of each series and a human with a challenge system in the final three during the first 2 1/2 months of the Triple-A season, MLB on June 25 switched to an all-challenge system in which a human umpire makes nearly all decisions.

Each team currently has three challenges in the Pacific Coast League and two in the International League. A team retains its challenge if successful, similar to the regulations for big league teams with video reviews.

“The challenge system is more likely or more supported, if you will, than the straight ABS system,” players' association head Tony Clark said earlier Tuesday at a separate session with the BBWAA. "There are those that have no interest in it at all. There are those that have concerns even with the challenge system as to how the strike zone itself is going to be considered, what that looks like, how consistent it is going to be, what happens in a world where Wi-Fi goes down in the ballpark or the tech acts up on any given night.

“We’re seeing those issues, albeit in minor league ballparks," Clark added. "We do not want to end up in a world where in a major league ballpark we end up with more questions than answers as to the integrity of that night’s game or the calls associated with it.”

Playing rules changes go before an 11-member competition committee that includes four players, an umpire and six team representatives. Ahead of the 2023 season, the committee adopted a pitch clock and restrictions on defensive shifts without support from players.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome