Macatangay: Why stewards got it right in the Kentucky Derby

Macatangay: Why stewards got it right in the Kentucky Derby
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Maximum Security crossed the wire first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, but in a shocking turn of events, he was later disqualified. Instead of the Florida Derby (G1) victor winning again, the 65-1 closer Country House, who kept losing prep races with his late kick, won the Derby at incredible odds for Bill Mott.

On the far turn, jockey Tyler Gaffalione began to set up War of Will for a final run by switching him outside Maximum Security. Country House made a strong move while even wider outside, and Long Range Toddy remained part of the mix, just to the right of War of Will’s new path.

While nearing the top of the stretch, Maximum Security began to run a bit awkwardly and came out, interfering with War of Will’s rally and eliminating Long Range Toddy’s chances completely. Country House continued on the outside with his move, but once put in a stretch drive, his rally stalled.

Maximum Security was disqualified because he interfered with War of Will, causing a chain reaction which bothered Long Range Toddy, too.

Giving thoughts on the stewards' decision was difficult, as the best horse actually crossed the wire first. Maximum Security secured the lead, maintained it and worked hard to repel Country House and the field.

Country House gave the impression of a chronic hanger on paper, and he showed it again when it counted. In fact, the incident did not affect Country House too much. It more so hurt War of Will and Long Range Toddy. Long Range Toddy folded quickly and looked done, but War of Will lost an unknown number of lengths while continuing to fight in the stretch.

That is the problem. Maximum Security cut off War of Will’s path, and War of Will still had some run left. Because the incident cost War of Will a better placing, the stewards had no choice but to disqualify Maximum Security.

In most instances, it is better to reward the bettors. If the discussed foul did not cost any horse a placing, then let the finish stand as it is.

But in this case, War of Will moved like a candidate to hit the board. His momentum was halted by Maximum Security’s actions, and that was unfair for him. If it only involved Long Range Toddy, who had nothing left, then maybe a bigger argument existed for Maximum Security. 

War of Will had a chance though to hit the board with a clear run.

Think about what trainer Bill Mott said after the race: “There were some people that bet the two horses that got bothered.”

He continued and pointed out, “Those two horses lost their opportunity to win or place in the Kentucky Derby.”

The bettors who backed War of Will and Long Range Toddy must be considered. 

Even if they passed on War of Will to win, it is possible bettors put him in their exotics tickets in the third or fourth spots. Those bets still deserve consideration from stewards, almost as much as the winning spot.

Consider the long-term consequences if the stewards let the actions go unpunished. Every time a horse comes out and unfairly impedes another horse, bettors would say “But in the Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security got away with it.”

Racing fans remember the lack of a disqualification for a long time, and it erodes the public trust in the product. For example, people still complain about Bayern impeding Shared Belief at the start of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic. If bettors cannot trust stewards to make the right decisions, why would they play the races? Stewards will use different and unfair rules for big races. 

Plus, what happened occurred in the most important race in America, meaning racing fans and bettors will remember an unfair decision even longer. Fifty years from now, if Maximum Security won, bettors would still put an asterisk on the race because he interfered and won unfairly.

Furthermore, letting horses step out of their lane and interfere will encourage reckless riding all over the country. After all, if it happened in the Kentucky Derby and they let it go, there is no reason to punish horses who impede others at Mountaineer or Penn National. Everyone saw the Derby.  

Did Maximum Security deserve to get placed 17th, rather than behind War of Will? Well, that is another debate altogether. 

Was it unfortunate this disqualification came in a Kentucky Derby? Of course. It is terrible that the horse who did the most work in the country’s most important race got disqualified. Maximum Security ran the best race.

What difference does it make what race it is, though? If this was a maiden claimer and the same incident happened on the turn, the horse is disqualified. Assuming rules are rules and the stewards apply some consistency to them, the fact that this is the Kentucky Derby is supposed to make no difference, as all races are races and deserve consistent rulings.

What else could the stewards have done?

Besides the option of letting Maximum Security go unpunished, in some cases the stewards fine the jockey rather than disqualify the best horse. This path rewards the bettors and lets stewards still punish what happened.

Maximum Security caused his own problems, though. One comment on social media suggested he got spooked by the roar of the crowd, and this sounds accurate. The unfamiliar noise may have startled Maximum Security.

As a side note, when Maximum Security tried to correct course, he then bumped into Code of Honor on the inside. He was all over the place.

Without a doubt, it was tough decision for the stewards. But they ultimately got it right. Maximum Security received his punishment, and Country House will go down as the Kentucky Derby winner.

What a wild end to this year’s Derby season.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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