Kentucky Derby Disqualification Highlights Need for Consistency

I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails regarding my views on Saturday’s disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby. As many know, I came out pretty strongly against it initially, calling it “absurd” in one of the articles I wrote, which drew the ire of a lot of racing fans — especially after photos surfaced, documenting the contact between Maximum Security and War of Will (this was fairly obvious from the race replays too, but I guess the still photos were more compelling to some).
So, have I changed my mind? No.

Let’s take the arguments one by one:

1) Saying (as I did) that there should be a higher standard for changing the order of finish in a big race advocates a double standard.

Yes, yes it does. And anybody who doesn’t have varying standards on a whole host of things is either fooling themselves or they’re a jerk. For example, one of my standards is not soiling myself on a daily basis (once a week, max). Yet, I would not apply that standard to an infant.

Likewise, when I go to the Dollar Store, I don’t expect a shopping experience similar to what I would experience at Saks Fifth Avenue. Heck, I even waive my standard on soiling myself at the Dollar Store — runny body wash and a box of half-frozen fish sticks for only two bucks! Are you kidding me?

2) Rules are rules.

Well, yes, but it depends on the racing jurisdiction. A rule in California may or may not be a rule in New York and vice versa. Similarly, contrary to majority of opinions on social media, rules are routinely overlooked in racing.

As evidence of this, let me take you back to another marquee race — one that took place on March 30, 1985.

On that day, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champ and leading Kentucky Derby (G1) contender Chief’s Crown won the Flamingo Stakes (G1)… only he didn’t. Despite being clear in the stretch, Chief’s Crown was disqualified for “failing to maintain a straight course down the stretch” and “intimidating” the second-place finisher, Proud Truth.

In terms of the rule (and it’s one that exists in many racing locales), this was the right call — Chief’s Crown did not, in fact, maintain a straight course down the lane. Yet, 10 days later, Florida’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering “overturned the controversial disqualification of Chief’s Crown by stewards and reinstated the Kentucky Derby favorite as the Flamingo Stakes winner,” according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Also, if the rules are so sacrosanct, someone please explain the Bayern situation to me.

3) The disqualification of Maximum Security ensures that horse racing remains safe for both riders and horses.


Paddy O’ Prado in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.

Hold on, I’m choking on my beer. Of all the arguments, I’ve heard this is, by far, the most ridiculous. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s a dubious claim (and 18-20 horses in the Kentucky Derby every year does not qualify as the best of circumstances).

Yes, I agree that disqualifications and other penalties can act as a deterrent, but only if they are applied consistently — and they’re not. In fact, rough riding has been the norm in past editions of the Kentucky Derby, partly, I’m sure, because riders had little fear of getting taken down (heck, they had to finish well first — and that’s tough enough).

Take, for example, Kent Desormeaux aboard Paddy O’ Prado in the 2010 Run for the Roses. Shortly after the break, Desormeaux makes a beeline to the rail, bumping with Stately Victor and herding the race favorite, Lookin At Lucky, along the way.

Paddy O’ Prado would eventually finish third, while the other two finished eighth and sixth, respectively. There was no jockey’s objection, no steward’s inquiry, no cries of dangerous race-riding.

Look, I want my position thoroughly understood: I have no problem with enforcing the rules of racing and, in fact, if I were appointed racing czar I’d probably be fining and banning people like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. But that’s the way incidents of this nature should be handled — with fines and other penalties (up to and including purse redistribution), not by changing the pari-mutuel results. As it stands now, the very opposite model is in place.

Mind you, I would feel entirely different if Maximum Security had fouled the second-place finisher or won by a nose like Bayern. But when the winner is clearly best, as was the case in this year’s Kentucky Derby and in the 1985 Flamingo Stakes, I think the bettors’ interests should take precedence.