If you change lanes recklessly at high speed, cut off several cars in the process, and very nearly cause a catastrophic accident, the cop doesn’t tear up the ticket just because the accident miraculously didn’t take place.
That, however, is what many observers of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby think should have happened, rather than the disqualification of near-favorite Maximum Security, the first horse under the wire.
A willful denial of facts — choosing what one prefers over what actually is — can get you in a lot of trouble. It can lead to anything from letting the entire planet do a slow burn toward extinction to creating a narrative in which the Kentucky Derby is just an annual rock fight during which the rules of racing somehow do not apply.
It makes no sense to me, and I find myself on the other side of the rail from former colleague Dick Jerardi, whose expertise I respect, but whose point of view on this matter doesn’t match up with mine. Jerardi and many others believe that Maximum Security was the best horse entered in the field, ran an extremely game race under bad conditions, proved his superiority on the track, and deserved to be sheathed in the soggy rose blanket at the end of the day. I believe all those things except the last one.
The business of deciding an outcome in sports isn’t about which competitor should win. If it were, then there would be no reason to hold any race or game or tournament. Put the data in the computer and, presto, the Warriors win the NBA title again.
Just because Maximum Security probably should have won doesn’t mean he deserved to win. Just because it’s a better and neater story to tell doesn’t factor into the telling. Maximum Security rode well out of his lane as the final turn straightened out at the top of the stretch and got directly in front of War of Will.
The rear legs of Maximum Security and the front legs of War of Will were within inches of tangling. If they had, both horses could have gone down, and the pileup coming from behind would have ended the appeal of horse racing for millions. It would have further crippled an already damaged sport.
The ripples from that rock in the pond traveled quickly. War of Will smacked into Long Range Toddy, who smacked into Bodexpress. All three of those horses were impeded. Did it affect the outcome of the race? Beats me. You can say with reliability that those three had a lesser chance than they did before the foul, and that’s why the stewards eventually took down Maximum Security.
The standard should be this: If it happened during a $4,000 claiming race on a Wednesday at Parx, would the disqualification have taken place? There’s no question in my mind that the answer is “yes.” And if that’s the answer, then it should also happen in the Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who had three other horses in the race, told reporters that “no one ever calls an objection in the Derby” and sometimes one must “take your ass-kicking with dignity.”
I respect his opinion as a horseman, of course, but there were lives, both human and equine, put into serious jeopardy when Maximum Security jumped his lane. This wasn’t just jostling and rough riding in the massive pack of a Derby scrum. It was recklessness — unintentional in every way — but recklessness nevertheless.
A lot was made of the 22-minute delay while the three stewards digested the replays and made their decision. Was it actually indecision that caused the delay? Or was it simply the pulling apart of the threads of the race to see exactly which horses were impeded and where Maximum Security should be placed in the result?
Only the people in that room really know, and the stewards didn’t do themselves any favors by refusing to answer questions about the process and the outcome. In many ways, however, the replay speaks for itself; although different people will see it differently depending on their points of view. There aren’t many uninvolved bystanders at a race track.