THE WRONG CALL
Kentucky Derby DQ is a bad look for a struggling sport
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.
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.
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.