Staff Columnist

Sideline soliloquy

Disqualification no shame for Kentucky Derby

There was a lot of uproar over the weekend about horse racing.

The main event of the sport is the Kentucky Derby and during its 145th race a foul was committed that disqualified the winner and elevated the second-place finisher, Country House, to the win.

Never before had such a thing happened at the Derby and people were outraged about it.

If it hadn’t happened in 144 previous races, maybe it was due to happen.

An appeal by Gary West, co-owner of the disqualified winner to overturn Saturday’s ruling by Churchill Downs’ stewards was denied Monday by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

The appeal, which was filed Monday, never had a chance. The commission’s rule book spells it out clearly: “Findings of fact and determination shall be final and shall not be subject to appeal.”

Twenty-two minutes after Maximum Security crossed the finish line Saturday, he was dropped to 17th for interference. There were screams of outrage from the crowd of 150,729, many of whom bet on him.

To me, that is where the outrage stems from. People bet money. People lost money. People discarded winning tickets when they saw their horse didn’t win and people with what they thought were winning tickets suddenly had nothing.

West was shaken but philosophical after leaving the winner’s circle without the trophy. “That’s horse racing,” he said. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Sometimes you win and you lose all in the same race.”

I never heard this question asked of him, but being a reporter I wanted to hear an answer to it, “What if it was your horse that was interfered with? What if you were awarded the win?”

A few hours later, in a phone interview with the Associated Press, West said: “I think this is the most egregious disqualification in the history of horse racing, and not just because it’s our horse.”

Video shows front-running Maximum Security veered out two or three paths leaving the far turn. He impeded War of Will and Long Range Toddy and also bothered Bodexpress and to a lesser extent Country House, the 65-1 shot who ran second and was awarded the win.

Tyler Gaffalione and War of Will were fortunate they didn’t go down, which might have wiped out seven or eight horses.

“The horse racing world should be happy that War of Will is such an athlete,” trainer Mark Casse said, “because not every horse doesn’t go down there. (Maximum Security) put people’s lives in danger. He put horses’ lives in danger.”

Yet that wasn’t the focus after the race, but it should have been. Talent saved injuries and possibly lives.

One thing I appreciated was the transparency behind the decision. Although it took them 22 minutes after the race ended to announce it, the head steward explained the decision. They didn’t just rely on replay, they personally spoke to all the jockeys affected.

The National Football League could learn from that.

When the New Orleans Saints didn’t get a pass interference call they believed would have sent them to the Super Bowl, the NFL was silent on the matter. The comissioner, Roger Goodell, waited 10 days before addressing the matter.

Major sports leagues are starting to embrace betting on games after being in fear of gambling. Betting on horse racing has always happened. Maybe that is why there was more transparency.

It’s funny how important money is, how money changes things. Oh wait, no it’s not.