Discussing and rambling on the DQ
Maybe the most interesting part of this Kentucky Derby, is that our President, has taken the time to TWEET his opinion on the DQ. He didn’t care for the stewards DQing of Maximum Security. As it happened neither did I, even before the DQ actually took affect and immediately after the “jockey’s objection” was announce, I wrote an e-mail to Ralph – essentially saying this Objection has a snow balls chance in a warm climate of succeeding. My e-mail went out within a minute of the objection – to my recollection.
Then, I saw the rewind, I actually saw the foul. I started to wonder, what was going on – why didn’t the steward’s call the foul! This was a serious, serious, serious foul of War of Will. I didn’t initially think Tyler Gafflione, the jock up on War of Will, even claimed foul, but his horse was totally close to loosing his footing and causing a horrific accident. Fortunately for all concerned, War of Will has superior athletic ability and managed to stay up (more on him a little later in the next piece). Once, I saw the foul, my gut reaction was – this horse needs to come down!
But then my conditioning and experience, kicked back in! I started my love affair with horse racing in late 1976 with harness, then switched to thoroughbred racing in 1977, since then – I cannot even remember a single objection being raised by a jockey. Certainly, no steward inquiries. That’s 42 years going back to Seattle Slew without a single objection ( interestingly, the great Seattle Slew might have committed the biggest foul in KD history) or steward’s inquiry. While considering the huge number of horses that have raced, is pretty amazing, but with a distinct and obvious reason! The unwritten rule of the Kentucky Derby has been for my 42 years of experience, an understanding seems to have existed between the stewards, the jockey’s and the fans, that we will let the boys play, and not interfere with something as mundane as a rule book. In essence, a single race – essentially of anarchy. Suddenly, this past Saturday -May 4,2019 that all changed and it even got the attention of the TWEETER in CHIEF, our President.
Let me digress, just for a moment, as a way of drawing some concepts to this discussion, that might be a touch relevant. In football, we have evolved from leather helmets, to plastic helmets with cushioning and a single face guard (what I grew up with in the 1960’s) to better helmets with more face-guards, now to today’s space aged protective head-gear. At the same time, we have seen the turf they play on, get faster and faster and faster… while going from all types of turf, to rock hard artificial turf, to todays’ super fast, but more cushioned artificial turf. And I suppose as time goes by, the helmets will change and the turf will also change. And with these changes are changes in rules and training of football players to tackle appropriately. About 30 years ago, there was a terrible hit by a great Free Safety on a terrific wide receiver, on a route over the middle, that led to the receiver being turned instantaneously into a quadrapalegic. The response was to create rules to protect wide receivers form hit’s to the head, while defenseless. And now to any hit to the head is totally illegal – except in the Saints – Rams game in the playoffs last year!
The point is, in the NFL, the governing body makes it a point to improve both rules and equipment – thereby making the game safer – and then better. Safety first and public enjoyment is 2nd. IN that way we have improved – as a society – a great deal since the Roman’s fed the gladiator’s to the Lions. Today, in the NFL, our gladiator’s survival, past their time of play, is a big part of the picture, not a simple aside.
In horse racing, since I first came to be a fan, and was witness in my myriad trips to the track and the walk rings, was the care and love each horse receives from the horse’s handlers. And then – the jockey’s get penalized for breaking the rules and endangering a horse or causing an unfair advantage, the consequence to the jokey make taking dangerous or unnecessary advantages a total waste of time. Because, there will be a penalty on the jockey for doing so and the horse will be DQ’d denying anyone else to win! And since that time in 1977, this has been horse racing, with a single exception, the Kentucky Derby which allowed for suspension of the rules for a single race, for a single day each year. I could live with that, in fact I totally embraced it. But now, things have changed over 40 years, suddenly stewards have started to interpret the rules with a certain increased “discretion” that allows them to certify a win, while clearly viewing an infraction.
The net result of this, is to create an incentive to take risk and ride in a risky manner. Sure, the jockey may still get days for riding over the line. But the financial incentive that may motivate risky behavior is alive and well. The “appearance” of impropriety or collusion between bettor and a jockey, are such, that their is now incentive to ride rough and at the margin of safety and over that edge. The penalty might sit the jockey for a few days, but the horse won the bet has been cashed and the incentive remains. All because the STEWARD, instead of applying the rules of horse racing, infer their view of what the actual outcome would have been if the foul had not been made. And my response would be to them, they have NO !5$#$% IDEA, because the fou has consequences to the horse that was fouled. It could have robbed him/her of air, or simply caused enough stress to overcome the foul to cause them to look a little weak at the end. Sorta what happened to War of Will – maybe. War of Will was making a menacing move, and coming alongside Maximum Security, when Max Security moved out into him, taking his legs from under him. War of Will, instead of attacking, was forced to find his footing and gather himself. Now, to us it might only appear to us to have cost him a half-length, or less and then he continued on, but tired suddenly in the last 100 yards. \
My guess is, he took the foul, expended enormous amounts of energy, simply not to go down… then attempted for a 2nd time to take on Max Security and then tired once again. Keep in mind, War of Will had raced 1 mile under 126 lbs. impost when this series of events transpired. Truthfully, I have no idea if the infraction caused him 10 feet or if cost him 50 feet or more. I have no idea if the horse came out of the race sound and feeling pretty good – all things considered or if he is body sore and even injured. And neither do YOU or ME or any STEWARD know this at the time. But I would argue all that is possible.
How about if the Stewards, when visiting with the jockey’s before the race, told them they were going to evaluate all infractions more carefully, and demand a higher standard of safety and excellence, maybe Luis Saez would have been more concerned to hold his horse a little longer, until he had straightened out and thereby kept him under a better hold and better control through the turn. But I am saying, if safety first is the mantra of horse racing, then the STEWARDS have to be STEWARDS and not corrupted by a notion of a HOLLYWOOD ENDING, but need to be faithful to the rules of the game. Especially, at the KD.
I had never thought of it before is such distinct terms. What I would call a HOLLYWOOD approach to horse racing and now I would guess, that attitude would probably be part of the public’s declining participation in the game. One of my thoughts was share with Ralph on Race Day Las Vegas, on Sunday morning – that this decision at Churchill Downs was a reaction to the issues that occurred at Santa Anita over the winter, with the sad truth of so may horses breaking down, and yet on Sunday, only 1 day after the DQ at Churchill Downs, the steward’s couldn’t identify a clear foul by the #9 horse on the #2 horse and couldn’t bring themselved to DQ the #9 horse. And so there it is… in one venue, Churchill Downs, things might well be changing, but in the venue started the public awareness on safety in horse racing – Santa Anita, there is a real in-ability to move on.
Back to the decision, the DQ at Churchill Downs or The DQ at the KD… some title like that will be as well known to horse players as the “Thrill in Manila” is to the average sport fan over 60 years old ( and probably almost everyone), it will easily be remembered and it should. We have to decide as a society in general and a horse playing fan in particular, as to whether we have a real set of rules for horse racing, finance world, and public life of America. Once we decide we have good set of rules, should they be applied fairly and correctly, some of the time or all of the time or just 99.9% of the time! I will offer this author’s opinion… I say we make our rules – the code of behavior – for all to witness and for everyone to know and the basis for all decisions — all the time! They should be the central part of out game, even before the horses or the people, because the horses will always be safer and the people better able to own, play, manage and appreciate the game. And I say 100% of the time. Horse racing needs to improve, just the same as all other successful sports improve…