Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from a wet, wild and controversial Kentucky Derby

Three takeaways from a wet, wild and controversial Kentucky Derby:

1. Maximum Security was the best horse Saturday

As I wrote for Monday, the Churchill Downs stewards absolutely made the right call in taking down Maximum Security’s number and declaring Country House the winner of the race. Trainer Kenny McPeek does a good job of explaining the decision in this video he published on Twitter. And Scott Carson provides a head-on video that clearly shows that Maximum Security did in fact veer out and caused what could have been a disastrous situation.

But those who said that Maximum Security was the best horse are not wrong. The Florida Derby winner silenced the doubters, including me, by taking control early and leading pretty much the entire way around the sloppy surface. You can debate how much his foul played in the final outcome, but several horses had a chance to catch him in the stretch but couldn’t get the job done.

It’s a shame that Maximum Security is not running in the Preakness. Owner Gary West said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show that without a Triple Crown on the line, there is no reason to run the horse in Baltimore. It would have been fun to see a Maximum Security vs. Country House rematch at Pimlico.

2. The stewards should have taken questions from the media

The trio did their duty. They obviously thoroughly discussed, debated and investigated the issues before making their decision. They didn’t shy away from making a tough decision in the world’s most well-known race. And they made the right call.

Still, when they appeared before the media on Saturday night, they should have done more than give a brief statement about their decision. They should have entertained questions. There were still unsettled matters. Who exactly lodged the objection? (Turned out it was both Country House’s jockey Flavien Prat and Long Range Toddy’s jockey Jon Court.) When was the objection lodged? (According to Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form, Prat informed the outrider immediately after crossing the finish line that he wanted to put a “hold” on the race results.) What went into making what was termed a unanimous decision. Those are just a few.

After winning the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, Serengeti Empress’ trainer, Tom Amoss, told of how he wanted to put a video on social media to prove his filly was not injured after bleeding in her last race. Amoss said that there needs to be more transparency in racing. Just one day later, racing could have used more transparency with regard to the biggest, most controversial stewards’ decision in perhaps the history of the sport.

3. At least people are talking about horse racing

Trainer Mark Hennig tweeted Saturday, “Ultimately, this DQ is huge for the game ..... people will actually talk about this Monday when they go back to work!” Even the President tweeted about the controversy. He was wrong, but he did tweet about it.

Like it or not, people are drawn to controversy. Saturday’s debate isn’t about the merits of horse racing, or the safety of the sport, as was the case during the spike of 23 deaths at Santa Anita Park this winter and early spring. This is basically about an official’s call. Some think the stewards made the right call. Some are adamant they were way off base. You can pick a side.

Unfortunately, with Maximum Security skipping the Preakness, the television ratings in two weeks will not be what they could have been. There will be some curiosity about Country House. Is Bill Mott’s horse the real deal, or was he a 65-1 fluke? And even if Country House wins, will the try for the Triple Crown at the Belmont be tainted by the fact he did not cross the finish line first at Churchill Downs.

Speaking of Churchill Downs, West was quite critical of the track in his interview with NBC.

“You shouldn’t have 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby,” West said. “Churchill Downs, because they are a greedy organization, has rather than 14 horses like you have in the Kentucky Oaks, the Breeders’ Cup and every other race in America, just because they can make more money they’re willing to risk horses’ lives and people’s lives to do that. I’m not a fan of that. I think they ought to have 14 like every other race.”

That may be true, but why hadn’t West publicly lodged that complaint before now? Every owner who enters the Kentucky Derby knows that there can be as many as 20 horses in the race. That has been long established.

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