By John Pricci

HALLANDALE BEACH--In the wake of the Maximum Security disqualification from first in Kentucky Derby 145, the chairman of an International Federation of Horseracing committee suggested that America’s foul adjudication process should be changed, more closely aligned with a process used worldwide.

That standard, known as Category 1, also has support from the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, racing’s newly created think tank. That reasoning states that horses should be disqualified only if the stewards decide the impeded horse would've finished ahead of the horse who caused the interference.

Depending on interpretation of rules followed in 38 disparate racing jurisdictions, America adheres to Category Two standards, one that sustains objections if the guilty horse costs the impeded horse(s) an opportunity for a better placing.

The offending horse then is placed behind that runner(s), thus Maximum Security was placed 17th behind Long Range Toddy, severely impeded by the “veering out” Maximum Security and after significantly interfering with eighth finisher War of Will and 14th finisher Bodexpress.

Based on logic and ethics, HorseRaceInsider for years has championed the cause of uniform standards and punishment for any rule-breaking practitioner on the front-side, backside and between the fences of America’s racetracks.

The rest of the world may have everything else right, but not this issue.

Do I believe that Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress would have finished ahead of Maximum Security had they not suffered interference? No. Do I think he might have cost War of Will victory as that rival attempted to move up outside the winner at the five-sixteenths pole? Possibly, but I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

The area of the track at which the incident occurred, near the five-sixteenths pole, is the place where most races are won or lost. Of greater significance, it is the point where forward momentum is everything and it’s nearly impossible to regain momentum at that point.

The truth is that only God knows how everything would have turned out but nevertheless is the stewards’ responsibility to make the call based on video evidence and their best judgment. These are the facts, supported by video evidence, as stated in the official chart footnote:

“Maximum Security was disqualified from first and placed seventeenth for veering out and stacking up War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress.” No more or no less indisputable in light of the “stacking up” that occurred.

The stewards post-race explanation: "The riders of the 18 (Long Range Toddy) and 20 (Country House) horses in the Kentucky Derby lodged objections against the seven horse, the winner... We had a lengthy review of the race, interviewed affected riders, and determined that the seven horse drifted out and impacted the number 1 (War of Will), who in turn interfered with the 18 and 21 (Bodexpress).

“Therefore, we unanimously determined to disqualify number 7 and place him behind 18. That is our typical procedure."

Sunshine is the only disinfectant. The disqualification process in the Commonwealth should have been questioned and explained in greater detail, beginning with “why no inquiry?”

Instead, a teachable moment for the fans and public alike was lost, a chance to inform a national audience that regulations designed for the safety and horse and rider and in the interests of integrity matter whatever the prevailing circumstances.

What should be apparent to all is that whether there was interference or not wasn’t at issue; three horses were severely impacted to varying degrees, the stack-up costing them any chance for whatever placing they might have been able to earn.

As a result of Derby 145, I no longer am in the Category 1 camp and now believe, as do most U.S. jurisdictions that a foul is a foul when any impactful interference occurs. Who among us is equipped to say where a bothered horse would have finished with certitude? Only God knows and what technology can show. The rest is heated conversation.

Putting fairness aside for the moment, times have changed for horse racing in America. It’s a sport under a Griffith-sized microscope. For all its wealth and influence, racing has powerful enemies. It cannot send the message that because it’s an important race, anything goes.

Horse racing is a dangerous sport, a fact that everyone recognizes but one that nobody wants to have a serious two-way conversation about. Shaking up the status quo always means a different set of winners and losers. The devil you know is not always the best way to proceed.

How can the sport expect people to invest their time and treasure to learn the nuances of handicapping so that they might participate in the pastime of Thoroughbred racing and help support the game’s economic structure—never mind understand the concept of needed raceday medication?

How can racing entertain and educate people when in the name of commerce it is unwilling to show how officials deal with racetrack incidents? Of course the process has shortcomings and can be improved. But adjudicating fouls is about more than cashing a bet. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

Too Many and Too Soon

The post-race reaction to Derby 145 again has raised the question of field size and whether it should be whittled down to a manageable 14-horse field. First, this aside:

For years we have made a case for spacing out the Triple Crown events, positing that it would make the task harder because today’s Thoroughbreds are more likely to give their the best effort if allowed more time, say the first Saturdays of May, June and July.

It’s the kind of modern schedule that gives a trainer no justifiable reason to duck any of the legs, most notably the Preakness.

Fifty years from now, no one will think any less of the next Triple Crown winner compared to American Pharoah, Justify or any other legend of yesteryear.

Field size? Churchill Downs is never going to reduce the size of the 20-horse field but with all the money it makes from America’s Race, it owes it to the horses, the horsemen and the sport to have a single 20-horse gate constructed—even for just this one event.

Controversial Decision Heightened Horse Interest

Never shy to share his opinion, War of Will’s trainer Mark Casse took on the role of horseman activist at Friday’s NTRA teleconference. What a refreshing breath of fresh air and candor. This week, Casse sought the thoughts of many horseman, including jockeys, re Derby 145 and shared with the media:

“I’m not sure our [recent] Triple Crown winners got this much attention. I read a lot about it this week and I would also like to respond to a question someone asked Mike [Smith] earlier, about why Tyler [Gaffalione] didn’t claim foul.”

On jockey’s objections: “I’ve had a problem with this sport for a long time,” Casse would go on to explain:

“I don’t think jockeys should have to make an objection. I’m not sure that on regular days four or five inquiries shouldn’t be put up by the stewards. These rules were put in 50, 75 years before there was instant replay.

“[A stewards’ inquiry] should have went up when they crossed the [Derby] finish line… Our stewards need to be told to stop waiting for jockeys to make an objection and put up the inquiry on their own,” before adding this:

“While I have everybody here I want to say that I’m not opposed to a 20-horse field. A 20-horse field is what makes the Derby what it is. But I am opposed to the current starting gate. Too many problems happen early on. Pressure needs to be put on Churchill Downs to make a starting gate that holds 20 horses…

“They run 20 horses is Japan, they run 20 horses in Hong Kong. I had a nice talk with Johnny Velazquez the other night. Johnny said that over there horses are not allowed to change lanes for the first eighth of a mile.

“I wish that Churchill Downs would give us a 20-horse gate, and if horses had to stay in their lanes for an eighth of a mile, we’d have a much safer race and less horses would have excuses.”

Triple Crown Ratings: Preakness Week Edition

When you peer at the ratings, the first question you may have is “where is Omaha Beach?” His absence from HRI’s Triple Crown Rankings is because he will not make the Preakness or Belmont Stakes.

And neither will the first four finishers Derby finishers run in Baltimore. This week’s parameters were that the top five or six horses should reflect Derby results with the bottom five possible Preakness and/or Belmont projections.

Thankfully there still will be a Preakness Stakes even if 2019’s Middle Jewel is a bit tarnished. But it’s still a classic and that makes it one of the best horses racing events this country has, indeed one that often is a lot more formful than the Derby.

If the Pimlico starting gate is not full when entries close but will come close enough to be an excellent betting race. The talented young horses, Improbable and War of Will, will be the likely favorites and will prove tough customers to run down.

Three-year-olds raise their game throughout the entire season and growth spurts are still common until after the Triple Crown is completed. While Country House was not the best horse on Derby day, he raised his game significantly and there’s no reason why he can’t develop further. It’s why races are run on dirt, not on paper.

But all racetrackers and fans know the only important thing is that all Preakness horses bring their best game and come home safely.

Current HRI Triple Crown Ratings:
1- Maximum Security (60)
2- Country House (44)
3- Tacitus (41)
4- War of Will (34)
5- Game Winner (26)
6- Improbable (25)
7- Code of Honor (24)
8- Long Range Toddy (8)
8- Bodexpress (8)
10- Bourbon War (6)
10- Roadster (6)
Also: Mr. Money (4) Vekoma (4) Alwaysmining (2) Master Fencer (2) Owendale (2)
[Ratings are based on a point-scale of 12 for 1st, 9 for second, 8 for 3rd, etc., etc.]

© John Pricci,, May 12, 2109