The rules apply on Derby Day in Louisville as they do everywhere else on every other day. Interference is interference is interference.
When Maximum Security made an unscheduled detour out of his lane along the rail Saturday afternoon and veered into traffic, he did so at the risk of disqualification.
He would cross the finish line first. He gave every indication of being the best horse in another sloppy Kentucky Derby.
But in their unanimous decision to declare Country House the winner of Derby 145, the stewards did their duty and did horse racing an inestimable service.
In changing the outcome based on an objection, chief state steward Barbara Borden and her associates, Brooks Becraft and Tyler Picklesimer, succeeded in changing the subject for a sport that had been under siege following a rash of racetrack fatalities.
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The complete statement from chief state steward Barbara Borden regarding Maximum Security's disqualification in the Kentucky Derby.
Dominique Yates/Courier Journal, Louisville Courier Journal
Opinions will be sharply divided on the wisdom of the decision, and the precedent set by choosing a Derby winner by committee, but since that debate does not entail the beating of dead horses, it serves a purpose beyond justice.
"It will give somebody a lot to talk about for a long time,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said of his first Derby victory. “I mean they'll be speaking about the result of this race from now until they run the next Kentucky Derby and the next 10 Kentucky Derbys and 20 Kentucky Derbys. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if this race shows up on TV over and over and over a year from now."
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On balance, this is a good thing. It stimulates discussion of the sport that is not driven by Lasix, illegal medications, dangerous surfaces, use of the whip, financial pressures to race unsound horses, or equine mortality rates.
Complicating that discussion is that Maximum Security’s movements had no discernible impact on Country House’s trip. Though Mott said the interference compromised the chances of two other horses “dramatically,” he acknowledged that Country House may have been affected only "slightly."
But in conceding that point, Mott insisted that the horses hampered by Maximum Security — and all of the people who bet on them — were victims deserving of justice.
The team for 2019 Kentucky Derby winner Country House talked about the horse's controversial victory on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Dominique Yates, Courier Journal, Louisville Courier Journal
War of Will was plainly impeded, was closing on Maximum Security, and may have lost as many as four or five lengths in the process. Long Range Toddy may also have lost ground in the scrum. Borden also cited Bodexpress as a victim of Maximum Security's move.
The rule, as written, is unambiguous:
"If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul. … If, in the opinion of the stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards."
Mott said if it were the third race on a Wednesday, as opposed to the biggest race run in the United States, “they definitely would have taken the winner down. I think that’s the only way we can look at it.”
Others will argue Maximum Security was clearly better than Country House, and therefore more deserving of the garland of roses. That argument has some merit, too, provided you can dismiss the other horses as collateral damage.
Country House's connections, including jockey Flavien Prat learn they won Kentucky Derby 2019.
Justin Sayers/Courier Journal, Louisville Courier Journal
“It’s actually bittersweet,” Mott said when it was over. “I’d be lying if I said it was any different. You always want to win with a clean trip and have everybody recognize the horse as the very good horse and for the great athlete that he is. I think, due to the disqualification, probably some of that is diminished. But this is horse racing, and there were two horses in the race that lost all chance to win the Kentucky Derby.”
That the three stewards deliberated for nearly 22 minutes before disqualifying Maximum Security speaks to the Derby’s significance and to the availability of multiple camera angles.
This was not a decision to be made lightly or to be unduly influenced by the importance of the race. Just as fouls should be called the same way in the last minute of a basketball game as in the first, racing rules should be enforced regardless of the track, its traditions, the purse or the audience.
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