Kentucky Derby disqualification an affront to bettors

Kentucky Derby Disqualification of Maximum Security both puzzling and troubling.

A few years ago, on 60 Minutes Sports, people were asked “which sports have the most cheating?” Boxing was cited by 21 percent of the respondents, while horse racing ranked second at 18 percent.

Apparently, the Churchill Downs stewards are gunning for the top spot.

In a Kentucky Derby disqualification that was as historic as it was absurd, Maximum Security — who crossed the wire in front by 2 ½ lengths — was taken down after an objection by the rider of the runner-up, Flavien Pratt aboard Country House. It revealed that Maximum Security had interfered with War of Will and Long Range Toddy.

Yes, you read that right: Maximum Security was not placed second for interfering with Country House — he was placed 17th for impeding the “progress” of War of Will, who finished eighth, and Long Range Toddy, who checked in 16th (in racing, the disqualified entrant is officially placed behind the horse or horses impeded).

It was the first time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby that a horse crossing the wire first was disqualified prior to the race being made “official”. And it shows why horse racing has gone from the top spectator sport in the 1950s to rank below bowling and fishing today, according to a recent Gallup poll. (Fishing, really?)

Hey, I’m all for enforcing the rules of the game, but when that sport allows gambling — nay, needs it for its very existence — the interests of the bettors must be first and foremost.

Almost no one disputes Maximum Security was the best horse on Saturday, yet history will show he officially finished 17th in the Run for the Roses. So, instead of his name being listed among the likes of Justify, Seattle Slew, Secretariat and other Derby champs, it will be lumped together with Tencendur, Twinspired and Adonis.

Never heard of them? That’s because they actually crossed the wire in 17th-place in the Kentucky Derby.

Look, I have no problem with fining the jockey aboard Maximum Security, Luis Saez, for careless riding or even disqualifying the horse from the purse money (although I still think that’s too harsh), but changing the order of finish? Come on.

And keep in mind: there’s precedence for this.

In 1968, Dancer’s Image crossed the wire first in Kentucky Derby 94 only to be disqualified a few days later when traces of the then-illegal drug phenylbutazone (bute) was found in his system. Controversy reigns to this day as to what happened and whether or not trainer Lou Cavalaris was involved in any way, but one thing is not controversial: Dancer’s Image paid $9.20 to win, $4.40 to place and $4.00 to show.

Likewise, when it was shown that Reggie Bush and O. J. Mayo received “improper benefits” to play for the University of Southern California and the program was hit — hard — with penalties, including the forfeiture of games, did Las Vegas bettors and others have to forfeit their winnings on the Trojans? Did they get reimbursed for their losses? Of course they didn’t.

Unless there is a clear and compelling reason to disqualify a horse, the original order needs to remain intact. Frankly, I thought this issue had been settled in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

That was the race in which Bayern played the part of an equine bumper car and slammed into race favorite Shared Belief, among others, leaving the gate. Yet, his win was allowed to stand.

In explaining the verdict, steward Kim Sawyer noted: “When the contact occurred at the start, according to the rules, we thought the horse was not cost a better placing.” (In California, where the 2014 Breeders’ Cup took place, any violation of the rules must be severe enough for the stewards to conclude it cost the fouled horse or horses a better placing.)

Fellow steward Scott Chaney (there are a total of three) concurred with his colleague, releasing a statement 90 minutes after the race.

“The incident occurred in a part of the race where the horses interfered with were not cost the opportunity to place where they were reasonably expected to finish,” he said.

Well, that’s a relief… although it does make me wonder why anyone bothers to bet, given the stewards have such a bead on where the horses are “reasonably expected to finish” a few strides out of the gate.

Obviously, I’m being sarcastic, but it’s because none of this makes any sense.

Bayern wipes out three rivals — including his main pace foe, Moreno — before holding on to win by a desperate nose and the result stands. Maximum Security impedes two also-rans, draws away to win by 2 ½ resounding lengths and he’s disqualified.

Somewhere, Dancer’s Image is rolling in his grave.