The debate rages on — a 65 to1 horse was declared the winner after the physical winner was disqualified. Here’s the rule:
“A leading horse when clear is entitled to any part of the track,” the rule states. “Except in a straight-away racing, every horse must maintain position as nearly as possible in the lane in which it starts. If a leading horse, or any other horse in a race, swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with or intimidate or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause same, it is a foul; if a jockey strikes another horse or jockey, it is a foul. If in the opinion of the stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, any offending horses may be disqualified by the stewards.”
The rule exists to prevent jockeys, as they did in the movie, “Seabiscuit,” from riding so as to deliberately impede their competitors. Rather than take a tumble, their competitors slow down, back off, and save themselves and their horses.
The rule, as being interpreted by media commentators and Derby competitors, is that Maximum Security drifted, and the story ends. But, the rule also reads “so as to interfere with intimidate or impede.” Thus, there is some intent implied in the rule.
The stewards, in announcing a 3-0 decision, offered this explanation:
“We determined that the 7 horse [Maximum Security] drifted out and impacted the progress of No. 1 [War of Will], in turn interfering with the 18 [Long Range Toddy] and 21 [Bodexpress].Those horses were all affected, we thought, by the interference.”
True enough, but impediment is only part of the rule. There remains “alters the finish,” and that pesky language of “swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere….etc”. Alters the finish? Country House was not impeded, and the other horses were not going to beat either Country House or Maximum Security. And Maxiumum Security’s jockey, Luis Saez, explained what happened on that muddy track on that rainy Saturday that his horse is a “baby” and the cheering crowd startled him into veering. The horse and the muck seemed to make it difficult for Saez to control the horse. Devious jockey swerving his way to a victory did not fit as a narrative.
No matter how you look at it: (1)The stewards were right to disqualify Maximum Security, because rules are rules. Or, (2) Maximum Security was robbed, because it was a matter of coping on a messy track, Kentucky we have a problem. The race gets an asterisk, Country House gets an asterisk, and we all have to wait for the Preakness and Belmont to see which horse has it. But, those outcomes will be followed by more asterisks, particularly if Maximum Security or Country House wins those two. A triple Crown with asterisks for one, and two victories followed by commentary on being robbed of the Triple Crown for the other. Like the track that historical day at the Derby, we have a mess.
UPDATE: Maximum Security’s owner has appealed the Derby decision and withdrawn from the Preakness. The asterisks will still remain.
UPDATE DOS: Country House also scratched from the Preakness. Appeal denied. Lawsuit pending.