There’s no crying in baseball. But there’s plenty of it in horse racing.
I witnessed that for myself during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. For the first time in the race’s storied history, the winning horse was disqualified. Grown men, several of whom embarked on their own race from the boxes to the cashier line in hopes of cashing thousands of dollars on Maximum Security, cried in public. Little did I know, the first time I ever attended the Kentucky Derby would also be a first-of-sorts for everyone.
The question of whether Maximum Security bumped into a fellow horse was answered very clearly in instant replay. Midway around the second turn, something appears to distract Maximum Security from the infield. Subsequently, he swerves sharply right and in the process commits an egregious technical mistake in his footwork. He moves further away from the rail. As a result of this sudden swerve, at least three horses are bumped – namely, War of Will. The colt was the first to get hit, and quite frankly, is lucky he didn’t sustain serious injuries or fall after his legs smacked into Maximum Security’s hindquarters.
When all was said and done (a now infamous 20 minutes after the “greatest 2 minutes in sports”), one of the house favorites was wiped from the winner’s circle. Instead, we are left with Country House. Nothing against the stud horse, but he was a 65-1 long shot to win the Kentucky Derby. Since this race requires the history books on more than one occasion, let’s break down just how rare Country House’s winning truly is: He is the second biggest long-shot to win the Derby since Done rail in 1913.
Nevermind the fact that some of us bet on Improbable (cough), who finished in a disappointing fourth place. That’s where an alternate race was happening, the scrum behind Maximum Security and Country House. That was the pack, along with Maximum Security, that was supposed to rival each other at the finish line. But the wet conditions did them no favors, and now it’s anyone’s guess whether most of these horses even run in the Preakness or Belmont Stakes.
On Monday, Gary West, the owner of Maximum Security, issued an appeal to the ruling which has been denied. He also reportedly said that Maximum Security will not run in the Preakness. Country House’s owner merely said they’re “leaning” towards the Preakness to keep in line with tradition, but prefers the Belmont instead (a track more favorable for his horse’s style of running).
What does this all mean? Not only will we likely not have a Triple Crown winner due to the owner’s whims and respective disgust, even if Country House does run again, he’s no Justify. Do you think casual fans of the sport want to tune into a rowdy Preakness to see a consolation-prize horse who’s likely not to win again?
While there is certainly merit in the stewards' explosive decision to disqualify Maximum Security, it now opens a floodgate for instant replay to tarnish the sport. Ordinarily, instant replay can benefit some sports like the NFL. It would be remiss not to mention the New Orleans Saints, who arguably missed out on the Super Bowl over a missed pass interference call, jumping in on the hysteria on Twitter.
These are horses. A muddy track inevitably causes reckless conditions, and now the question permanently looms whether races big or small will be overturned like this in the future. Not only does this create an ambiguity amongst those passionate about horse racing, think about the fans who tune in for the magical spectacle. What would draw you to something tarnished or poorly managed, other than the fancy hats?
The most disappointing facet in all of this is three stewards effectively eliminated our chance to see a Triple Crown winner this year. If Country House proves that wrong, then throw some hay his way. But in two weeks when everyone besides gamblers are more interested in the rambunctious Pimlico infield than the field of horses, just remember Maximum Security got robbed – and so did our fun.