7 May 2019

My Two Cents On The Kentucky Derby DQ

The Kentucky Derby is a throw the ref whistle away race. With 19 or 20 young horses going a mile and a quarter, you have to expect infractions. Throw in a wet track, and it is next to impossible not to have cutting off, herding, checking, etc. Watch any Derby replay ever run and find me a race where no infractions occurred. Heck, watch the 18 horse during the first furlong and the havoc he causes.

The Stewards know this is a throw the whistle away race going in. This is why they didn't put up an inquiry, in fact, objections in the Derby are rare. To my knowledge, the Stewards have not initiated any of them.

Had a jockey claim of foul not been made on Saturday, I contend that 99% of horse racing's fans and bettors would be completely content with Maximum Security, the best horse in the race by far, winning the race, even if an analyst or two pointed out that there was a possible infraction. The analysts would be able to say that an inquiry wasn't called because "it is the Kentucky Derby, historically an aggressively ridden race, this year on a sloppy racetrack." And you know what? That would have been fine and true.

Had that happened, the biggest debate among gamblers would be the magical re-breaking of Maximum Security at the head of the stretch. Many might be speculating on the drug results. Not too many people care about that right now. Just an aside, the newbies would be seeing the re-breaking as the signs of a super horse. It would actually be good for horse racing in the short term.

But there was a claim of foul. The jockeys who claimed foul put the Stewards between a rock and a hard place. An obvious infraction in high definition. Believe me, I can't begrudge their decision even though I disagree with it. Now, instead of 99% of people happy with the best horse winning the race, only around 50% are happy what's his name was placed first.

There is a lot of subjectivity going around. Did War of Will herd a horse or two making his way to the outside? Did he initiate contact with Maximum Security causing the shift in the first place? Or did Maximum security shy away from reflections on the track or was he spooked by the crowd? The last two possibilities were obviously not good enough excuses to keep in first place ONCE THE FOUL WAS CALLED.

Again, this decision wasn't cut and dry, that is why it took so long to reach a verdict.

I'm from the school that if a unanimous decision can't be made within three minutes, let the results stand. I know there are quite a few who are in the take as much time as you want to get it right camp, I just disagree. I also disagree with interviewing the jockeys. Do basketball or football refs interview the players when doing play reviews?

So what happens next? I think a pretty rough precedence has been set. More claims of foul are going to be made and more horses are going to be thrown out, even in big races. And the Kentucky Derby could become a big casualty because of the all the infractions that happen in the most exciting two minutes in sports.

The smart thing to do will be to reduce the field size to 14 starting next year. I don't think it will hurt betting by doing that. It might hurt premium seating a bit because 6 less connections will show up on Derby day, but that is a small price to pay to avoid ruining the Derby going forward.