A word on the Derby, and a few other things By Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming Reports May 28, 2019 at 7:58 pm I once heard it said that opinions are like elbows and kneecaps: most people have them, but the only one who cares is the person who possesses them. So with that in mind, I have a few of my own to share, even knowing the above statement is probably true. Let’s talk about the Derby for a minute. In my opinion, the Kentucky Derby stewards got it right when they disqualified Maximum Security. The fact that he came almost 4 lanes out from the rail is significant, a fact that most analysts missed before the horses crossed the finished line. Add to that that he solidly bumped War of Will, which caused a chain reaction that impeded two other horses and cost them a fair shot at placing. The most glaring injustice, though, was the stand that many loudly took that the Derby is too important to disqualify the winner for a little bumping. I wonder if those people, Maximum Security’s owner included, would have felt same if the roles were reversed, or if there was a tragic pile-up due to that infraction. Something like that would likely have been the worst accident in horse racing history. Horse racing has taken it on the chin lately for a number of reasons, chief among them the multiple breakdowns at Santa Anita Park. Could you imagine what the reaction would have been had several Derby horses had been injured or killed on the track during the Derby? If safety in racing is really important – and it is – then the safety of the jockeys and their mounts needs to be paramount. Under that standard, the stewards must take down horses who interfere or put others in danger. Jockeys, too, must be held accountable for their actions. If the stewards fail to do that, they also bear the cost of these incidents. Horses are disqualified, and jockeys suspended, every day, in races all over the country, and it does not make national news. But when a jockey is killed in a racing accident, it’s naturally reported internationally. Careless riding in any race is unacceptable, and racing stewards have an obligation to keep the game as safe as they possibly can. I applaud the Derby Stewards for their courage in the face of the criticism that they had to know was coming, overlooking the fact that no Derby horse had ever been disqualified for an on-track infraction and doing the correct thing for the safety of racing. That took guts. I salute them for it. In my opinion…Why is it that the NFL obsessively uses instant replay to make sure calls by officials are accurate – except for on plays like the infamous botched pass interference call in this year’s Rams-Saints NFC Championship Game? Why is it that the NHL also uses instant replay to make sure calls by officials are accurate, for the integrity of the game, but their rules failed miserably in the Sharks-Golden Knights game and then twice more in the ensuing series between the Sharks and the Blues? The public and sports fans went nuts over these incidents. Major League Baseball uses instant replay to review most umpires calls as well, especially after the pressure that erupted in 2010 when umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly called a runner safe at first base and cost Tigers pitchers Armando Galarraga a perfect game. The NBA allows replay review of serious fouls for the protection of the players. These cases show that instant replay, at least hypothetically, adds to the integrity of their sport, but only if the rules of each sport are designed to use this technology properly. It is apparent that the NFL and NHL are going to modify their rules next season due to these incidents, in hopes of more accurately assessing what actually happened on the field or ice. Racing already has instant replay, so what more can the sport do to improve its product, in light of that fact? Some have suggested adopting the European standards of placing and disqualification, which have several options stewards can use in determining how to adjudicate objections in a horse race. Of course, there are many in those jurisdictions who don’t like that system and would prefer ours. Really, though, our “system” is the issue, because our system is to let each state’s Racing Commission set its own rules. In Kentucky, the racing license that owners and trainers alike have to hold to race there has a provision on the application that decisions by the Stewards over the placing of horses is final and cannot be appealed. This fact, seemingly lost on the owners of Maximum Security, was the reason the Commission refused to hear the appeal. Humans make judgment calls all the time, and such decisions are regularly called into question. In today’s environment, maybe more than ever, decisions are looked upon with a jaundiced or skeptical eye and the more important the decision, the closer the scrutiny. So now, with all the discussion about the Derby, what should horse racing ultimately do? My suggestion, like many others who have weighed in on this subject, is that a National Commission is needed to oversee racing’s rules regarding medication and other equine safety issues. It would also allow for a consistent set of guidelines regarding disqualifications and the behavior of jockeys and trainers that every track in the country would be subject to without causing the states to lose autonomy on other issues. No one can standardize an individual’s opinions, but a Commission’s guidelines can be used to help the betting public understand the reason behind those decisions. In my opinion… they should never change the Triple Crown, even though there’s been some talk of doing just that lately. People have complained in the past that it was too difficult and the spacing between races should be extended because it is hard on the horses. But – as President Kennedy said about going to the moon – we do it not because it is easy, but because it is hard. A Hall of Fame trainer recently even talked about adding the Travers Stakes – which is run in August at Saratoga – as a fourth leg (of the Triple Crown?) and running the Belmont a bit later in June. Are you kidding me? Horse racing is a sport of rich traditions and history, and it is a marvelous one. Yes, I know that the Triple Crown has made small adjustments over the last 150 years, but let’s back up, take a breath, and be rational about this thing. It is not mandatory to run your horse in all three legs of the Crown – or any one of them, if you choose – but winning all three is still the apex, and only the great ones have ever accomplished this feat. Right now, the main discussion is about the Preakness moving away from Pimlico to the newer Laurel Park (both of which, incidentally, are owned by the Stronach group, who also own the rights to the Preakness Stakes.) Old Hilltop has been the site of the second leg of the Triple Crown for decades, but the track is in desperate in need of major repair, with over 6,000 seats this year alone being deemed unsafe. The decision will eventually be made by the owners and the State of Maryland, although the two sides have been negotiating for months with no solution in sight. The Stronach ownership doesn’t want to spend the money to upgrade an old, obsolete track when it has a newer, more profitable, one less than an hour away, while the state hopes to keep the race at Pimlico but so far has not offered enough money for repairs. Wherever they hold the Preakness in the future, I just hope it stays as it is now, two weeks after the Derby. To my eye, the venue is not as important as the traditions of the Triple Crown schedule being maintained. In my opinion… Handicapping horse racing is still the most intriguing, difficult, and challenging betting opportunity that exists today. There’s really no way to foresee a maiden (a horse that’s never won a race) finishing second in the Florida Derby, and then that same horse throwing his jockey at the beginning of the Preakness. Or the second-longest shot on the board finishing second in the Preakness, beating eleven others who the pundits thought were better. Many of us spend hours looking at speed figures, watching race replays, and trying to decipher past performances in order to come up with the correct bets on hundreds of races every month. The mental gymnastics of handicapping are good to help ward off dementia but can sometimes be tough on the pocketbook. But the thrill of getting a race right can be both profitable and exhilarating. More than that, it’s a lot of fun. So you might complain now about a steward’s decision that takes down your winning horse, but you should temper that irritation by remembering one thing: one day, you might be on the other side and have the horse that is put up due to that disqualification. Congratulations to everyone who cashed tickets on 2019 Derby winner Country House!