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2019 Kentucky Derby and Preakness FAQ



I know, right? 

No, for real, WTF.

Well, there's not much I can add to what's been explained by many people leaning eagerly into various camera lenses: The horse who ran the fastest also committed a foul by getting in the way of other contestants. Doesn't matter if the horse he fouled didn't have much of a chance to win: He didn't have to foul the potential second-place horse, he just just had to cross up any other horse. Which is what happened.

According to the rules at that particular state at that particular track in this particular year, if one horse bothers another ("bothers" is a very specific term in horse racing; it means that it impeded the forward progress of another), down you come. Disqualified. Rules ain't care if NBC has built up for six hours with features about the human atrocity that is peach bourbon and B roll of foals and the wholly useless presence of Von Miller. Disqualified. 

PICTURED: Rules ain't caring

What were the stewards thinking? 

I'll tell you what the stewards were thinking:  *&#%," that's what the stewards were thinking. All kinds of bad words in all kinds of bad-word combinations. They didn't want this mess any more than the bettors, the jockeys, the owners, or the trainers.

Part of the endless pre-race festivities included a speech in the jock's room by the head steward, Barbara Borden, and, like all televised jock's room speeches, it was all part of the show and about as useful and impactful as the 114-minute retrospective on Bob Baffet's bowel movements. Basically she said "Lookit, the Christmas-and-Easter Catholics are at Mass today, so don't screw it up," and, this being an NBC production, they screwed it up.

Why didn't the stewards just let Maximum Security win if the horses he bothered the most (War of Will and Long Range Toddy) didn't have a chance?

They went by the rulebook. They had to. When it comes to making people who watch horseracing two minutes a year happy vs protecting the integrity of the sport, they came down on the safe side.

It might sound surprising that the "safe side" is also the unpopular one in general opinion. But coming at the controversy from the long history of horseracing and its constant shadow of cheating and fixing, the stewards were protecting themselves from accusations of not following the rules as strictly as possible.

Those stewards were in an impossible situation, which is why, after the race, they made a big deal of announcing that the decision was unanimous. They weren't hanging one another out to dry. 

But did the jockey screw it up on purpose? Did he mean to cheat?

Of course not, and that's what really sucks about all this. Maximum Security's jockey, Luis Saez, wouldn't be racing at this level if he engaged in such behavior. 

But here's the reality of Thoroughbred racing: It's a 1600 or so pound animal with a 110 pound human on its back. The 110 pound human is ripped and has zero body fat and knows what he's doing, but said 110 pound human has probably been starving himself down to race weight over the past few days, and even if he had a few extra ounces on him, if a young, lightly raced horse decides to shy or bolt, there's not a whole lot he can do about it.

That's apparently what happened here. It's why Saez kept saying "He's just a baby" during the post-race interviews. Maximum Security jolted to the outside as the pack neared the top of the stretch, the Wall of Noise freaked him out, he went "WTF IS THAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!!" and by the time Saez could right him, the damage was done.

And I do mean damage. Maximum Security missed the Preakness because of lacerations sustained in the incident, and the crossing and stomping of fast-moving horse feet could have made for a horrific tangle.

But here's the thing: All the other horses were babies, too. Three year olds. That's what makes the race a derby. Maximum Security may have been the fastest horse that day, even given his stumble, but the increasing pattern of shoving colts into the big long gate at Churchill Downs without a lot of experience cost him.

Who were the jockeys speaking to on that phone after the race? 

They were answering questions and describing what happened to the Churchill Downs stewards. Each jockey involved in the botheration was sent to the phone for a discussion of what happened from his perspective. I for one found it wildly entertaining, if only to see the appearance of an actual landline. 

On the other hand, I'd like Luis Saez to function as the pattern for all future reporters' questions in all possible scenarios.

What was going on during that big huge delay?

Much more post-Derby vomiting than usual, I'll tell you that. Also the stewards were looking for a window to leap out of that led directly into a hole in the ground, because there were no easy answers here.

There was a point at which I said to myself, "This is taking too long," and that is when I fired up the laptop. They were making sure and extra-sure sure. The decision was probably made in about 8 minutes and the other 15 were spent in extra viewing ass-covering. Normally DQs do not linger on like this, and the longer the "Official" light stayed off, the more I saw Barbara Borden flipping her hand at screens showing slo-mo replays, the more I realized what was going to happen, and how very, very much this was all going to suck. 

How much does this suck?

A lot. A lot, a lot. There was absolutely no winner in this scenario. Maximum Security's connections were given the worst possible drop-down menu of all time. The viewers and the betters are mad. Country House's (remember him? The horse declared the winner?) connections were in tears in the winner's circle, and believe me when I tell you it wasn't for the usual reasons. 

The whole thing attained the status not just of of Dumpster On Fire, but Dumpster On Fire While Floating Headlong Into a Baby Food Factory on a River of Toxic Waste and Ebola when the trophy came out. Because here's what happened during the presentation:

GOVERNOR MATT BEVIN: The people of Kentucky, first in hospitality... are pleased to award you...


Total nightmare.

Why am I hearing from some people in the sport that the right call was made, and from others that the disqualification was ridiculous?

Because it's horseracing, and it's not horseracing unless people are out by the furlong poles measuring their own furlong poles. While the stewards did follow the rules by the book, it is open to interpretation as to whether or not Maximum Security's actions prevented the other horses from finishing higher. The stewards determined this was the case. But there are arguments to be made against their findings, especially from those concerned about how non-horseracing fans would react against a perceived miscarriage of justice on the sport's biggest day.

And how did non-horseracing fans react?

Judging by the screaming on every possible social media feed here in Ohio, they were completely outraged that the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game was being pre-empted. 

This doesn't seem fair. The best horse should win the Kentucky Derby.

That's the thing, bro. The best horse doesn't always win every race due to a million and one factors, and the best horse especially doesn't always win the Kentucky Derby. That's because the Derby is more of a stampede than a proper horserace.

The average number of entries at a regular track on a regular weekday is roughly half that of the Kentucky Derby's. Everybody wants in on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs. Just to have one's colt in the Derby increases the price of his sperm exponentially, and it's the Kentucky Derby, and that's understandable and all, but to line up 20 colts who probably haven't raced much in front of elevently billion drunks and cameras and lights and sousaphones is asking for-- well, what we got on Saturday.

What do you think about the stewards' decision?

Once a person is somewhat informed about what happened in the Derby, your reaction reflects what you think about how life should go. Are you a person who thinks rules have a place and a point, or are you willing to bend them under certain circumstances?

Anyone who has been in my company for more than five excruciating seconds is aware that I'm a highly emotional person, and, on top of that, an INFP. That means I'm a highly emotional person who is also driven by ironclad ethics. And that means rules are rules, and sorry, People of Kentucky, First in Hospitality. 

Should anything different have happened?

NBC saw fit to bring in noted horseracing expert Dale Earnhardt Jr to augment its coverage, but nobody ever asked him what he thought in the aftermath. I'll suspend judgement until he weighs in. 

What did you learn from this year's Kentucky Derby?

I learned that when you are recording the Kentucky Derby, you should always program the DVR to tape at least an hour of the show after the Kentucky Derby, because apparently what can happen is 17 hours of asking people on "The Voice" which horse they are rooting for and 17 seconds of actual informed analysis, sometimes the broadcast goes over the time allotted when there's a DQ. 

If you love horseracing so much, why you so salty over NBC's incessant coverage of the Derby? Isn't more coverage a good thing? 

I mean, on the face of it, more coverage is fine, but not when you're dedicating the bulk of it to the likes of coverage of the coverage. And that's what NBC does. It's all tweets and fifth-tier celebrities and mint julep recipes and jockey wives and idiots in the infield and blllarrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhh. It's incessant. It's insulting. 

What happens when you take all that away?

You have a horse race. You have a horse race that few people understand. And you have furor when something unusual happens like a challenge and disqualification. 

Is there anything Marty McFly and Doc could have done?

If Omaha Beach, the early favorite, hadn't scratched, we'd likely have avoided all this, and believe me no one was madder than the feature writers with all kinds of tie-in D-Day 75th anniversary information bookmarked.

This assumes, however, that Biff did not get his hands on the sports almanac. 


What kind of impact did the lack of return of several Derby horses have on the Preakenss?

Well, this, for one:

 That, children, is one empty infield. Consider that records were broken quite recently in Preakness attendance and, well, that's just sad. 

What's this I keep hearing about Maximum Security owner Gary West making some sort of challenge? 

Oh, it's crap-- some kind of thing where if any other horse beats Maximum Security at 7:19 AM on a Wednesday by the solar calendar when the tide is high and the batter has a slugging percentage greater or equal to the value of this Kohl's coupon. It's a face-saver when he doesn't even need one. Most people, even if they agree with what the stewards did, acknowledge that Maximum Security was the fastest horse on the track that afternoon.

What was up with the horse who ran without a rider?

That would be Bodexpress, who on his way to the post was 100% was acting like me when I don't want to go to the gym and who I pointed to on my TV screen, saying to Josh The Pilot, "Anyone who bet him is screwed. He's freaking out." 

Bodexpress then proceeded to freak out, dumping his rider, John Velazquez, and then proceeding to run the rest of the race all by himself. He was doing exactly what week-old foals in paddocks and untamed horses across the West do every day-- thunder around and race freely because they're horses. Nobody had as much fun at the Preakness as Bodexpress."WHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" went Bodexpress, free to make his own in-race decisions and go outside as much as he pleased without any stupid human on top of him telling him to conserve energy or wait for the optimum time to go as fast as possible. He had such a good time he went all the way around again.

Everybody should have as much fun at the track as Bodexpress.

Do women wear hats to the Preakness like they do at the Kentucky Derby?

They do, but Maryland law dictates that they must be made of drinking straws by Mrs. Parker's afternoon kindergarten class on Recycling Craft Day.

Hey, when's the Belmont?

Oh, f-me, don't even start.


How Do You Know Someone's a NASCAR Driver? 

Pretty easy to tell, actually. New on RN. 


Where We Are

We're at that point in the summer sports season at no one seems to be able to agree about which point in the season at which we are. Is it too early to make predictions? Is it too late to panic? Where are we, exactly?

I'll tell you where we are:

Today it was 68 degrees and sunny at 1 PM. Josh The Pilot suggested lunch on our tiny table on our tiny deck beneath our mammoth sun umbrella. The sun umbrella is a great source of tension within our marriage. Ever cold, I want it up only when it's over 90 degrees and my skin is actually on fire. Josh panics when the smallest weak sunbeam penetrates the wispiest cloud and starts cranking.

After we ate, we both fetched work to continue enjoying the rare sight of the Ohio sun. But when I returned with my laptop, the umbrella was spread in all its Hoth-generating glory.  

"Why did you put it up?" I said. "It's not cold."

I departed the tiny deck, went to the closet, and returned to loudly put my jacket on at him.

"We're in direct sunlight," he pointed out. "My work computer is getting hot."

"But if I get hypothermia trying to type, that's okay." 

After a moment, the sun vanished behind a cloud, and he rose to put it up again. 

"Thank you," I said, and after a moment, pulled the jacket off.

"See," he said, "it's hot," and departed to put on a hat.

By the time he returned, the sun was out again, and I pointed out that maybe if he hand't declared himself LORD AND MASTER OF THE UMBRELLA without even ASKING ME about what I WANTED, and just left it DOWN, we wouldn't be GOING THROUGH ALL THIS. He replied, while lowering the shade, that he did not wish to feel too warm, and that it was nice out, and that sunny is different from hot. I left to clean the windows instead, and proceeded to miss a deadline.

That's exactly where we are.


What We Forgive

This week's column: "Don't hurt yourself lifting the rookie over your head Dirty Dancing style."


Puking Where He Stood

In case you were wondering on my public position about the likelihood of professional athletes losing their lunch, this post puts that to rest for you