Falsely finding blame

The saga of the Kentucky Derby disqualification continues with the 15-day suspension of Maximum Security jockey Luis Saez for failure to control his horse and react appropriately to correct course. Assuming the suspension is contested, this could extend the story of the 2019 Kentucky Derby into 2020.

All this leads to a few additional thoughts beyond this blog’s original analysis of the disqualification that made Country House the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby. The three points arguments that are repeated without merit are: something other than Maximum Security is the cause of the incident; the bumping was typical for a Kentucky Derby so an objection was out of line; and the 20-horse field is at fault and needs to be changed.

Casting blame and the suspension: Let’s start with the video analysis released by an attorney for Saez. This video falls apart when the main event, Maximum Security coming out several paths, is explained — weakly — with the caption: “What happened in the 5 seconds before this frame? Was it international by Luis? Or a distracted young horse?”

As mentioned previously, intent doesn’t matter. Was it intentional? No. It still happened, and it’s fair to question the reaction time by Saez. Is a 15-day suspension on the high side, probably. But no days? That’s the other extreme. To argue that Tyler Gafflione was aggressive with War of Will going for a hole that wasn’t there is ludicrous — if Maximum Security stays straight, the hole is there and what a finish that might have been.

The 20-horse field: Some have questioned whether the 20-horse field is a ticking time dangerous for the Derby. If it is, the fulcrum of that concern is the entry to the first turn — not the far turn in the final three furlongs where Maximum Security moved out. Moreover, Europe runs with 20 or more horses and not a thought is given to it. The field size has little to do with how rough a race is run. In fact, the last race May 10 at Churchill saw a bump result in an objection and the disqualification of the winner in a field of nine, on the turf.

The one suggestion that is worth looking at is whether it would be fairer if Churchill, which makes a ton of money on the Derby, should pay for a European-style 20-stall gate to eliminate the use of the 6-stall auxiliary gate. This would make the inside posts less of a disadvantage and remove the open space between the last stall in the main gate and the first stall in the auxiliary — a gap that promotes or allows veering.

This always happens in the Derby: The bulk of what happens that rarely results in any claims of in the Derby is side-to-side bumping. This is the type of bumping that’s hard to tell which horse instigated the contact and often is questionable as to whether it costs a horse a placing. And the Derby has its share of horses checking being in tight behind a horse in front of them. But what happened with Maximum Security was another degree — veering out several paths, impeding several horses.

As said before, the stewards made the right call.

Historical Post Script: This is not the first disqualification in the Kentucky Derby. That was 1968 when Forward Pass became the winner after Dancer’s Image was disqualified for a medication violation. Nor is it the first in-race disqualification — that was Gate Dancer being disqualified from fourth to fifth for interference in 1984. This is the first disqualification of a first-place finisher for in-race interference.

Screen grab of video submitted to KHRC on behalf of jockey Luis Saez.

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