Breaking Ethics News! Ethics Heroes: The Churchill Downs Stewards

The New York Times reports:

The speedy Maximum Security, the only undefeated horse in the field, appeared to win the 145th Kentucky Derby at rain-soaked Churchill Downs to keep his streak intact, but an objection lodged by what appeared to be the second- and third-place finishers (Country House at 65-1 and Code of Honor at 14-1) led to his disqualification. After a tense objection period that lasted several minutes, after the apparent winning connections had already been interviewed on live television, the stewards made the nearly impossible decision to disqualify Maximum Security.

During the long waiting period, NBC sports commentators and other noted that in a normal race, and not the most famous and prestigious horse race in the sport, the winner would be disqualified over such a clear foul. But, they cautioned, no Deby winner in the hisrory of the race had ever lost after a foul claim, and—I thought this was ominous–the stewards knew it was important that the “best horse wins.” Maximum Security was by consensus the best horse in the field, but rules are rules.

Integrity won the Kentucky Derby this year.

25 thoughts on “Breaking Ethics News! Ethics Heroes: The Churchill Downs Stewards

  1. The worst judgement call I have ever seen by racing stewards. The only restitution would be to now strip these 3 incompetent stewards of their licences. A very bad day for the horse racing industry.

    • Do you think they leaned over backwards to avoid appearing to let “the best horse” win? Presumably what they heard from the jockeys was a factor, not just the videos.

      • From Yahoo sports:

        A rider’s objection had been filed with the racing stewards. In many instances, an inquiry is started by the stewards themselves — but they did not initiate one in this instance. This one was started by jockeys Jon Court of Long Range Toddy and Chris Landeros of Bodexpress.

        They claimed that Maximum Security interfered with horses as they were rounding the far turn. “It got pretty gnarly,” said Long Range Toddy jockey Jon Court, and replays confirmed his assessment. Both Court and War of Will rider Tyler Gaffalione had to check up sharply when Maximum Security drifted out into their path, costing them any chance to be in the mix down the stretch.

        Given the controversies about animal safety that have dogged the sport since a spate of fatal breakdowns in California last winter, Gaffalione might actually have saved horse racing from a truly awful day. His quick reaction aboard War of Will prevented a possible spill that may have taken out much of the 19-horse field.

        Court, Gaffalione, Maximum Security jockey Luis Saez and Flavien Prat, rider of Country House, all got on the trackside phone with the stewards to give their account of what happened. And then the wait began.

    • The call was 100% correct. It was also 100% unfortunate, and nobody wins.

      I have been a Louisvillian for almost 40 years, and I have been to Churchill Downs so many times they ought to have a seat named after me in the grandstands. I have attended Derbys, Oaks days, Breeder’s Cups and every big race the Downs has ever hosted.

      I have seen many horses taken down for interference, and this was an easy, straightforward call for any other race. The fact they got it right for this one as well says good things about the integrity of the stewards, even as it will do violence to the popularity of the sport. And the stewards will be pilloried mercilessly by the clueless and the “ends justify the means” arguments that the best horse should’ve won.

      I applaud the stewards for doing the right thing, because they manifestly did, and I’m speaking as a person with enough experience in the sport to be considered a lay expert.

      Full disclosure requires me to state that the stewards decision cost my wife (and me) about $150. So if anyone not a connection of the 7 horse has a right to be angry, it’s me.

      • Thanks for the informed input, Glenn.

        Boy, thoroughbreds are magnificent animals. Too bad their legs are so fragile.

        • Yeah, that’s right. They are fragile. And this year has already seen some 23 thoroughbreds having to be destroyed due to injury at Santa Anita, I’m not sure what kind of fresh hell racing would’ve found itself in if several horses had to be killed after a crash in the Derby.


    I’m not a horse racing fan and do not know the rules on interference, but even watching the race broadcast live, I couldn’t remember ever seeing a horse come that far off the rail, three or four horse widths/lanes. After all, the shortest distance between two lines, etc. And seeing the video above, it appears to have been a really dangerous situation.

    Too bad, Max Sec seems like a really neat horse. Maybe he’ll win the next two? But the Preakness is always most horses’ downfall. We’ll she how the moral luck plays out for the horses and for the sport generally.

    • Ooops. It’s the Belmont, leg number three, that always breaks potential Triple Crown winners because it’s so long.

  3. ETHICS DUNCE — Flavius Prat, “winning” jockey, who filed a complaint and clearly did not tell the truth about the interference. His horse (now the declared winner) was not affected by the infraction, yet he kept insisting — and told the stewards — that it was. The rule was broken, but the “winning” jockey Should also be disqualified for lying to the stewards.

    • I must agree that the 20 horse was not interfered with enough to justify an objection, in my opinion, but the video does show he was forced a bit wider by contact with horses resulting from the foul. It was insignificant, in my view. But Bodexpress’s jockey also issued an objection, and he was substantially interfered with.

      The horse I personally had, the #1 War of Will, was about to run past the 7 before he was forced to check and lost all his momentum. An argument can be made that he was cost at least a placing by the interference, although his jockey did not issue an objection for whatever reason. Perhaps he didn’t think his horse had enough left, I really don’t know.

    • Wait. Are you saying that the winning horse took advance if an infraction to DQ Max Sec? If the intereference infraction resulted in a DQ, and that is what the rule states, then the second place is the winner regardless of whether it was interfered with or not.

      My question is this: does this increase the declared winner’s stud fees? That is an added bonus, no? Does the DQ impair or hurt Max Sec’s stud fees? What if Max Sec goes on two the next two big crown races?


  4. From the Louisville paper:

    The rule, as written, is unambiguous:

    “If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul. … If, in the opinion of the stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.”

    Nice to at least know what the interference rule says. It’s at least a good starting point.

    • There’s no doubt he swerved into the path of #1. #1 was very fortunate not to have clipped heels. If he had, he would’ve gone down and taken at lest three more horses with him. The result would’ve been a catastrophe, as such falls very often force the horses involved to be destroyed because of leg injuries, especially late in races where they are tired and more likely to fall badly.

      Those who think the stewards decision harmed the sport have no clue what was just barely avoided.

    • Yeah, I saw that. I haven’t checked, but I’m betting Rush Limbaugh has a similar opinion. Let me know if you happen across some of the other pundits who are calling the result a “travesty” or a “disgrace.” My guess is that there will be a correlation with those who also think Pete Rose and Barry Bonds belong in the Hall of Fame, and that election law violations and secret e-mail servers don’t matter.

      The mistaken perception that POTUS can give his 2 cents about anything and everything started taking hold last administration, and predictably, this POTUS has taken it to extremes.

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