2019 Kentucky Derby

The stewards got the decision right.

Jim Rome
May 06, 2019 - 9:48 am
2019 Kentucky Derby

USA Today


Before I get into what happened at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday and give you my thoughts, first let me be fully transparent about this. As many of you know, we have a racing stable, Jungle Racing. This is not a huge operation, but we race, we breed, and we own retired racehorses. 

On top of that, and in no way does this influence my take or how I see this, but I want to be transparent about it, some of the people that we are closest to in the business are involved with the winner Country House. LNJ Foxwoods, is Jaime Roth, who is a good friend of ours, and her parents. The Roth’s are big, big players in the sport. The Roth’s and we share the same bloodstock agents, Alex Solis and Jason Litt, who also happened to advise the other owner of Country House. And another owner of the horse is Guinness McFadden, and his aunt: Guinness has a farm in Kentucky, and he has one of our retired horses, one of the first we ever bought in Gallatin’s Run. So I know all these people, I do business with all these people: I consider them all friends, good friends. So I want to be really transparent about that. So before anyone tries to say, the only reason. You’re saying this is because you’re partners with those who benefitted from the inquiry.  Wrong. So, don’t bring it in here. I just want to be fully transparent about this: we do business with and are partners with people who own that horse. Now, having said that…

Remember when Omaha Beach had to be scratched from the Kentucky Derby and it felt like maybe some of the buzz had gone from the Derby? Neither do I. Because that was the craziest Derby ever. That’s not an exaggeration, or a bold statement, or a hot take, that’s a damn fact. If you’ve been living under rock for the last week, here’s how the finish went down.

And what a moment. Maximum Security goes from running in a $16,000 claiming race in December to winning the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

Except that wasn’t the finish. Because instead of the results going official and Maximum Security going legend, it went to a review. Two jockeys, Flavien Prat aboard Country House and Jon Court, who’d been riding Long Range Toddy, claimed they had been fouled by Maximum Security.

And then everyone waited. In the rain. And mud. And waited. And waited.

And then, nearly 22 minutes later, Maximum Security was taken down as the winner. Country House moves up and wins the Kentucky Derby. Absolutely insane. For the first time in 145 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, the winner was taken down. And as you can imagine, fans at Churchill Downs and online went ballistic because of all the money that was riding on it.

And you want another kick in the junk? Not only did Maximum Security get taken down as the winner, he got bumped all the way down to 18th, behind the lowest horse he impacted. That cost him nearly 2 million in a purse and who knows how much more potentially in the breeding shed. And his owner is none too happy about it, which I’ll get to in a bit. Because I know the feeling: I was involved in something similar to that.

But let’s go back to Saturday, there are so many people that only watch horse racing one day out of the year, Derby day. So many people that only bet the sport, one day of the year, Derby day. So what happened during the race is extremely confusing to people that really don’t know and watch the sport. I get that. You wouldn’t believe how much time and money I spent before I finally started to get a good feel for the game. So there was a lot of confusion after the race. So let me try to clear that up, although some of you won’t want to hear it. But as usual, racing got some of it right and some of it wrong. In terms of the decision itself, they got that right. And it took a big brass set to do it. The horse that finished first has never, ever been taken down in the Kentucky Derby. And now, judging from the reaction, you can see why. Not to mention the stakes involved. The decision cost the owners of that horse nearly $2 million in prize money and who knows how much more if the horse goes to the breeding shed as the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Not to mention all the millions that were lost by those who bet on Maximum Security. 

That said, the stewards got the decision right. It was the right call. Maximum Security, the horse that was running up front, crossed over multiple lanes and clearly impeded and interfered with multiple horses, mainly War of Will and Long Range Toddy. Clear as day in the replay. And it did impact the outcome of the race. It may not have been intentional.  The horse may have spooked by the crowd or something else, but intent really doesn’t matter here: there’s no doubt, he veered out, multiple lanes or paths, interfered and bothered other horses, not the eventual winner, but others and it impacted the outcome of the race. No one ever wants to take down the Kentucky Derby winner, and believe me, I’ve been in a similar situation with Shared Belief in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; no one wants to take down the Derby winner, but in this case, the stewards got the decision right.  That’s a foul. And if it’s a foul on a Weds in Kentucky, then it’s a foul on the first Saturday of May in Kentucky at the Derby. So they got the call right.

But they got a number of other things wrong. The call was good, the execution wasn’t.  For example, based on what happened, and how it obvious was to anyone who knows, the stewards should have immediately through up inquiry on the board. But they didn’t. The only reason it went to an inquiry is because two of the jockeys filed a protest. But the stewards didn’t. And should have. And I don’t know why they didn’t except to say maybe they didn’t want to be involved in the outcome if they didn’t have to be. Or maybe they didn’t want any controversy on the biggest day of the year in the sport. Problem is, with all those angles, and all the contact, very cleary and inquiry was in order, and the stewards should have thrown it up themselves immediately; the fact that they didn’t is all kinds of wrong. And a really bad look. And so is the fact that they take questions from the media after it happened, and one official came forward to read 106 word statement.  Given the nature of the outcome, and the amount of money that was changed hands as a result, you have to be a helluva lot more transparent than that. Someone has to stand up, explain the decision and answer some questions. Again, the right call, but the wrong execution. 

Meantime, the owner of Maximum Security, Gary West: is really unhappy still and says he will not run his horse in the Preakness and that he will file an appeal with the state racing commission. I get why he’s upset. Our group was in a similar situation in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2014. Shared Belief, a horse we owned in a partnership, was the top ranked horse in the world and the favorite in the breeders’ cup: by the way, a race with a purse that is greater than the Kentucky Derby. If Shared Belief wins that race, and he was the favorite, that’s a ton of dough, and he wins three year old horse of the year, after winning the two year old horse of the year previously, and he’s a lock for the hall of fame. So, huge, huge stakes. If you remember, or if you don’t, go find the race on YouTube…Bayern, came out of the gate and smashed into Shared Belief, and not only that, but hammered another horse that was the speed in the race, that we were counting to set up the pace: smashed into both of us. And then about 100 yards later, Shared Belief got hammered a second time by a horse named Toast Of New York. I could have argued interference. A lot of people were pushing me to argue interference. Even some of our team. But I didn’t. I sucked it up. And get this, Shared Belief despite that, finished an unbelievable fourth, behind two horses he had already beaten head to head, and the eventual winner, Bayern who smashed into him. So I’ve been there: no it wasn’t the Derby, but I’d argue for Shared Belief and our group, the stakes were just as high or close to it. We lost a ton of money that day. Our horse got banged up that day. And what I said then and I’ll say now, it’s racing luck: sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. That was a tough, tough day, but I sucked it up. West, apparently he feels he was badly wronged and is now saying he won’t run in the Preakness and may quit the game altogether. He’s handling it that way: we handled it the way we did.

One more thing about the winner…he ran his eye balls out. He was in second; it’s not like they took the winner down and replaced him with a horse that finished 17th. So while it’s a little strange to win the derby that way, and you’ve obviously rather your horse win by five lengths without any controversy at all, the owners of this horse have nothing to apologize for, and they’re not about to give it back; nor should they. They know they were the beneficiaries of that foul, but racing is a cruel, cruel game: my man Alex Solis was on the other side of it when Shared Belief got hammered out the of the gate and he was on the right side of it here. Sometimes you have racing luck and sometimes you don’t.