R.I.P. KENTUCKY DERBY 1875-2019

Greetings sports fans and welcome to yet another exciting adventure in journalism called Vegas Valley Sports Beat. That crazy little sports column that sometimes reports on sports. And today just happens to be one of those days. I have to first apologize to my saintly Editor-In-Chief, what’s his name. Just kidding. Mark Satorre is the best E-I-C ever and I owe him my undying gratitude for the patience he has shown and for allowing me to write as best as I am able to. Not many editors would have been so accommodating I think.

Between my domestic situation and trying to cope with the after-effects of reconstructive surgery on my right shoulder and losing my left kidney to stage 2 kidney cancer, my column has been more miss than hit most of the time but I’m trying my best to keep up. I have been away from home and from my computer for the past two weeks while helping an old friend who had a very serious accident when he fell off an extension ladder. He already has had two melanomas removed just recently and he just found a third one on the back of his neck last Friday. So we, of course, are very concerned about his health.

It’s a dreary, rainy day here in the lovely Las Vegas valley region which is really the only reason I am home today instead of working but we need the water badly so let it pour I say. We have already had as much rain this year as we normally see all year which is always a good thing. No rain means no rainbows and that is never a good thing. Just ask Noah.

So let us turn our attention now to the wonderful world of horse racing and the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby from Churchill Downs last Saturday afternoon. For 144 years now this classic race has been an American icon for sports enthusiasts and for horse racing fans worldwide. The ladies in their best derby bonnets, men in suits betting on the favorite or the long-shot, the blare of the trumpets calling the horses to the post, the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” mint juleps all around, the parade of the contenders as they are led to their places in the gates.  Is the track dry or is it muddy? The jockeys in the colors of their respective stables, the crowd, the noise, the anticipation, waiting all year for the gates to explode outward as the bell rings, the gates fly open wide and the field goes charging hell-bent for leather towards the finish line. Black hooves flashing in the sunlight, dirt, and mud fly in the faces of horse and jockey alike, the crowd tries to cheer and hold their breath at the same time as the field comes down the home stretch and the Run for the Roses begins in earnest.

Derby Day 1902

Everyone is on their feet screaming either GO! BABY GO! or, God #$%#@ & %$#$ Son of a @#$!!#! depending upon where their horse is in relation to the rest of the field. One horse crosses the wire first and wins the wreath of roses, losing betting slips are thrown down and forgotten, but not easily, while talk of can this one win the next two legs of the Triple Crown begins anew. Sure, s/he can run the Derby but does this one have the legs to win the Preakness, and then The Belmont Stakes which is a much longer race known for ending Triple Crown dreams? It’s a handicapper’s dream come true.

How sad it is for me now after some of the obituaries I have written during my short career as a sports journalist to have to now sit here and write an obituary for the Kentucky Derby of all things. But this is what we have come to as a society that a beautiful sport of kings should come to such a dire and ignominious end as this. Shakespeare in all his glory could not have imagined such a tragedy nor written such a bitter comedy as the final results of the 145th Run For The Roses.

Last Saturday saw the end of that wonderful old tradition with the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby. All of the elements of the previous 144 races were in place and it all seemed so normal and fantastic right up until the end. Betting, horses, jockeys, suits, mud, flashing hooves, mint juleps, big goofy hats, trumpets, screaming fans and so on and so forth. It was all there this past Saturday. The whole nine yards and it was another exciting horse race right down to the wire as always.

Maximum Security crossed the finish line and was declared the winner in what looked to me, and I’m sure to the rest of the watching world like it was a fair race. And then something unheard of happened and poof! Just like that all of that wonderful tradition was flushed straight down the toilet never to be seen again. A dirty jockey named Flavien Prat, who had lost the race fair and square jumped in front of the cameras and began to whine about how they had been bumped by another horse. How appropriate that his mouth was covered with mud and horse shit.

The next thing anyone knows the Stewards of Churchill Downs decided that after 144 fair races to hand the title to someone else who clearly had nothing to complain about over the only clear contenders #1 & #13.  Where do you even begin to describe the can of worms they opened up by allowing this? The owner of Maximum Security appealed the decision yesterday but it was denied because apparently there are no appeals. Which in turn means there is no legitimacy to the race if it’s to ultimately be left up to 3 fallible human beings whose motives (not to mention blood alcohol levels) must be considered suspect at best in the wake of this travesty. Considering the amount of money that changed hands as a direct result of this decision that should raise even greater concerns where oversight should be compulsory.

I personally didn’t bet a cent on it so I couldn’t care less but it had a profound effect on the sports books here inLas Vegas. Coming in as he did at 65-1 odds Country House cost bookies a ton of money even though betting on him was relatively minor compared to the amount of action Maximum Security saw at lower odds. The potential for fraud that this opens the door to is so far beyond acceptable it doesn’t bear mentioning but it does demand immediate and appropriate attention.

The fact that he dominated the race from wire to wire has to be taken into account, I think, and I have watched the replay closely time and time again frame by frame. I saw no significant interaction between horses except that #1 War Of Will ran up on Maximum Security when he veered slightly off the rail in front of him. Their hooves never touched that much is very clear from the replay but War Of Will did have to check up. That did not appear to be deliberate on the part of  Maximum Security’s jockey but it remains that he did veer in front of #1. It was then that #18 Long Range Toddy veered over to the left and bumped hips with Country House just as the latter put on a burst of speed. If anyone can say they were impeded it would be #1 War Of Will who came in 7th place and #13 Code Of Honor who came in 2nd after the decision of the whine Stewards. Oops, did I write that down? Hm. But none of them complained did they? Nobody saw any impediment on the part of Country House but he did complain?

If anything is to be said I saw only that Country House not only was not impeded but in fact benefitted from that interaction by getting an outside run at Maximum Security which he could clearly not sustain from the outside line that the jockey chose to run. Any fool knows that you don’t run a horse around the outside.

Had he gotten a run on the inside Country House might have had a legitimate shot at the win but that is a matter for speculation. What I do find odd about the whole thing is that #18 Long Range Toddy wound up finishing in 16th place. That’s funny because in this picture you see Country House pulling away on the outside from Long Range Toddy who is running beside him and just behind Maximum Security and a nose ahead of Code of Honor who is on the rail running fourth.

What I do care about is the race and the sport itself. I have been watching the Kentuck Derby every year since I was a kid and I watched a beautiful horse named Secretariat win the Triple Crown. I was transfixed by the sport instantly. I have seen a lot of them since then. I’ve even managed to pick the winners in more than a few races over the years and I always root for that horse to win the Triple Crown of course. I watched Seattle Slew win it and I rooted for Affirmed too. Last year I called Justify for the Triple Crown my EIC can back that up. I love horses, and racing and I am blessed to be able to work with two fine cutting horses. I have been a racing fan from the gate and I will be to the wire. I liked Code Of Honor to win in this one but that’s not a bet I made just my own choice at post time. I usually decide who I like during the parade to the post but I have never bet on the Derby. The few horse races I have bet on I never even came close to winning.

I used to love the Kentucky Derby most of all but after last week I’m done with it. There is certainly no reason to watch the Preakness now, or the Belmont Stakes either because if Country House wins at the wire it will probably go to some other whiner who if there is any such thing as justice, will do the exact same thing to them.

I saw the race live and I saw the video replay of the bump that Prat said threw his horse off its stride. I watched it a few dozen times and I’ll likely watch it some more. My saddle sore ass and horse shit stained spurs it did. I guess I’m the only one who noticed that Country House speeded up as the two horses bumped together and ran away from the #18 horse who had made contact with him. Prat tried to take Maximum Security on the outside of the last turn and ran out of gas before they crossed the finish line. Country House had clearly run himself out by then and was not gaining enough ground on Maximum Security to win even if they’d gone another 50 yards.

Had Maximum Security bumped into Country House then clearly he should have been disqualified. But for two horses who had no chance of winning to combine, even unintentionally, to strip the winner of a title that way is simply unacceptable to my way of thinking. Mary and Gary West, the owners of Maximum Security said on Monday that they had filed a “protest, objection, and appeal letter,” with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission but it was, of course, denied. Their attorney, D. Barry Stilz stated to Fox News that this was because the “rules were not properly applied.’ The disqualification of Maximum Security was not subject for appeal according to the commission.

In their statement, the West’s said the video clearly shows their horse should never have been disqualified and rightfully so. “In denying our request,” The West’s statement said, “counsel for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission reminded us that it was a “privilege” to participate in horse racing in Kentucky. And we agree–however, that privilege comes with an obligation for fair, full and transparent treatment by the commission of its licensees. That did not occur here.”

Clearly not.

I guess it’s all a big coincidence that nothing like this has happened in 145 years. Until that is, Flavien Prat and Country House’s trainer William I. Mott pulled the objection and at 65-1 the second biggest long-shot won the Kentucky Derby by decision. So this means there is no need to actually win the Derby anymore. All you have to do is get close to the winner and then have another horse bump you at the right time, pitch a bitch at the end, and viola you win the race without even trying. This has set in place a precedent that means there is no longer any credence to the race itself nor to the results of the race which it seems are as fluid as the excessive number of mint juleps the Stewards of Churchill Downs must have consumed before taking part in such a travesty as this.

Fun fact. William I Mott has won in excess of $276,000,000 as a trainer and Just A Lady and I are currently rethinking our career choices.

 

This has never happened in 145 years for a damned good reason. That being because when the Kentucky Derby was founded it was an honorable sport for ladies and gentlemen. I like to think that their intentions were that it should remain honorable given the importance of the race and that it’s the first leg of the Triple Crown. Given the number of hoaxes that we have seen in recent times, I cannot help but feel that this is one of the most heinous of all time. The boos of the crowd of 100,000 spectators at Churchill Downs that day when they gave the roses, and the trophy to, Country House speaks volumes. That was foul and deserved no better reception.

The other 144 races counted for something but this one counts for nothing to me. I would just as soon see the owners, trainer, and jockey eat every last one of those roses and they can all choke on their trophy because it is less than meaningless, it’s a disgrace that I find painful to behold. I would never have the temerity to place it on my mantle much less have it in the same house with me. If it was handed to me right now I’d throw it under the nearest bus and leave it there.

Maximum Security’s owners have announced that they will not compete in the Preakness nor will Code Of Honor be running.  As of this writing, I have also learned that Country House will not run in the Preakness because he is sick. Apparently, he developed a cough after the race. The good news, if there can be said to be any good news, is that he won’t be whining his way to the Triple Crown winner’s circle. I personally like to think that, Country House at least has some pride and faked his illness to save himself from a repeat of the embarrassment he had to face when being booed in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.

There is a lot to be said for good old fashioned horse sense in the aftermath of a decided lack thereof but what is done is done and will not be undone. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Kentucky Derby, it tolls for thee. Rest in peace old friend.

Country House Kentucky Derby

Triple Crown winners by year.

Year Horse
1919 Sir Barton
1930 Gallant Fox
1935 Omaha
1937 War Admiral
1941 Whirlaway
1943 Count Fleet
1946 Assault
1948 Citation
1973 Secretariat
1977 Seattle Slew
1978 Affirmed
2015 American Pharoah
2018 Justify