OP-ED: In Making the Kentucky Derby Results Right, Horse Racing Still Gets It Wrong

Posted on: May 5, 2019, 09:16h. 

Last updated on: May 5, 2019, 09:16h.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Kentucky Derby, known as the greatest two minutes in sports, became the most confusing 22 minutes in sports Saturday.

Jockey Flavien Prat sits atop Country House, who was awarded the garland of roses for winning the Kentucky Derby after stewards disqualified Maximum Security for interfering with other horses late in the race. (Image: Churchill Downs)

In the end, the right decision was made but something still feels wrong about the entire process that led to Country House winning the Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security’s stunning disqualification and a couple of horses who saw their opportunity of a lifetime get dashed in the blink of an eye.

As a result, there were as many boos as raindrops yesterday at Churchill Downs when Country House, a lightly regarded 65-1 long shot, received the coveted garland of roses.

Country House rider Flavien Prat was one of two jockeys – the other being Long Range Toddy’s Jon Court – who objected to race leader Maximum Security’s move off the final turn. Under Luis Saez, Maximum Security drifted from the inside and right into War of Will, who looked like he was ready to take the lead. Or at least challenge Maximum Security for it.

The back legs of Maximum Security hit the War of Will’s front legs, setting off a chain reaction where Tyler Gaffalione’s horse collided into Long Range Toddy. That crushed what momentum Court’s horse had as several colts passed by him.

Ahead, Maximum Security continued racing and hit the finish line first. Country House, who was bumped lightly in the highlighted exchange, finished second less than two lengths back. But as the celebration began, word of the inquiry spread causing all bettors – or at least those who hadn’t already ripped theirs up – to hold their tickets.

DQ Right

The initial revelation of the inquiry focused solely on Country House. Few, if any, knew Court lodged his objection until the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Stewards gave a brief statement a couple of hours after the race.

It should have been made clear from the start that Prat wasn’t the only objector after the race. Replays showed the contact barely affected the winner. However, it certainly affected Long Range Toddy and War of Will.

The Kentucky Derby is to horse betting what St. Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve is to drinking. It brings out all-comers, including those who know little about the sport and its rules. Keeping the fans in the dark for 22 minutes only made matters worse when the decision was made.

And the stewards’ decision was fair and correct. They took down Maximum Security to 17th, one spot behind where Long Range Toddy finished and move everyone else up a spot.

It’s certainly not the way long-time trainer Bill Mott wanted to earn his first Derby victory, calling it bittersweet.

There were two horses in the race that lost all chance to win a Kentucky Derby, and they were in position at the time to hit the board,” Mott said afterward. “And people bet on these races. There’s millions of dollars that are bet. And there are some people that bet on the two horses that got bothered, and they had no chance to get a placing.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse.

Refund Wrong

TwinSpires.com, Churchill Downs’ online betting system, announced 90 minutes after the race they would give refunds – up to $10 – for those who bet Maximum Security to win. It’s the latest public relations move in the sports gambling industry to award something to bettors who believe they were aggrieved.

However, the move makes it seem like Maximum Security was the victim when clearly, he wasn’t. A legitimate disqualification shouldn’t get treated like a bad beat. Even in the Kentucky Derby.

Keeping bettors in the dark for nearly a half hour certainly made those who bet on Maximum Security feel like victims. People who knew they lost money but unsure of why went on social media to say they’d never bet on horse racing again. A little more information up front may not have saved everyone from being frustrated, but it certainly would have helped diffuse the situation.

And if you’re going to give back money, why not refund – and fully refund – the bets placed on War of Will and Long Range Toddy? They were the ones who saw their chances of winning or hitting the board most affected by the incident. Those horses suffered the bad beats through no fault of their own or their jockeys.

Unlike other sports, where replays (not the video kind) can occur or another benefit (free throws, power plays, etc.) awarded, you can’t restart a horse race. The best way to make it good for all parties is to give them their money back and a chance to make another bet. Considering the frequency of inquiries, it’s not like Churchill Downs and race tracks will shell out vouchers every day.

This has been a brutal five-month stretch for horse racing, and while thankfully no horses were lost Saturday, the sport did lose something else.