Commentary by FHBPA Director Tom Cannell
Just a week ago, Churchill Downs was overrun with hustle and bustle as the connections of 19 thoroughbreds readied to vie for ownership of the most important two minutes in sports. Few would be ready for what transpired on that rainy and sloppy first Saturday in May. The usual announced crowd of 150,000 patrons, dressed from cut off shorts and t-shirts throughout the infield to the most elegant of dresses and hats to be found throughout the land, gathered to take in the mystique that is the Derby. The race itself, once again contested in the worst of sloppy conditions, saw Maximum Security the apparent victor, become the first on track Derby winner in 145 years be disqualified.
Maximum Security, a GP winter alumnus, developed from a maiden claiming winner at the $16,000 level to the runaway winner of the Florida Derby, galloped past the finish line ahead of the field under the twin spires. Confusion reigned for over 20 minutes as the unofficial sign hung on the tote board. A claim of foul had been lodged by the rider of the eventual winner Country House, against the winner. Preposterous one might say, rough ridden Derbies have been the norm for years and never had the horse that beat the pack to the wire had to worry about losing on a foul. That has now changed forever, as the stewards disqualified the winner, stripping the day away from Maximum Security who was placed 17th.
Anybody not on the moon since last weekend is aware of the firestorm that followed, with talking heads choking the airwaves firmly entrenched on both sides of the issue. None of that changes the reality that the Triple Crown this year may be reduced to 3 individual crowns. Neither of the two horses embroiled in the controversy will run back in next weeks’ Preakness Stakes. The buzz that has surrounded the Triple Crown in recent years has been reduced to a whimper and that is not a plus for the second jewel at Pimlico nor the final foray in the Big Apple at the Belmont Stakes. The road to the crown lost its luster last week.
Many questions remain unanswered, and in fact unasked, such as why no inquiry sign was ever illuminated, as the stewards declined to engage in a dialog following their announced decision. Legal threats and appeals already fill the air, but one has to accept that the result is the result, and it’s time to move on to Baltimore.
A few thoughts:
Is it necessary to run a field of 20 horses in the Derby?
Is the fencing of the rowdy infield crowd, plied for hours on end with alcohol, too close to the track?
Will we see any difference in the riding tactics going forward or will this DQ just become an anomaly found in the history books?