For a brief moment on Saturday, Luis Saez felt an immense happiness that can only overcome someone that has achieved one of the greatest accomplishments of their life. He had won the Kentucky Derby with his horse, Maximum Security, by one-and-a-half lengths and spoke about how the victory was a dream come true in the always hilarious post-race horseback interview.
But then the pedantic stupidity of video replay had to rear its ugly head into the situation. A complaint was lodged against Saez and Maximum Security that claimed they had interfered with the race paths of other horses in an unfair way. Like in every sport, horse racing has a system in place where jockeys can object to the outcome of a race and send it to designated stewards for further review. Unlike other sports, however, this is rarely used on a stage as large as the Kentucky Derby. In the 145 years that this event has been happening, not once had a winning horse been disqualified for a foul called during the race.
With the pressure of potentially setting a new precedent in this incredibly old contest, the racing stewards took quite a long time to come to a decision. NBC was tasked with filling the time with awkward interviews with jockeys, horse owners and analysis about something that doesn’t ever happen. Eventually, the broadcast stumbled upon this replay angle, which seemed to show Maximum Security veering out slightly and squeezing War of Will, which caused Long Range Toddy to take back. (The tweet claims to provide an explanation, but it really doesn’t.)
Neither of the jockeys who rode the affected horses were the ones to object to the outcome of the race. Flavien Prat, the jockey of Country House—who finished second—was the one who threw up a Hail Mary objection and argued that the horses Maximum Security had made contact with had cut him off and prevented him from a clean path to the finish line. Prat admitted to NBC that he wasn’t guaranteed to win had the bump not happened, but he at least would have had a better chance at winning.
The fact of the matter is that Saez was able to quickly straighten out his horse, keep the lead that Maximum Security had held the entire race, and cross the finish line first in the immediate aftermath of this incident. War of Will faded to eighth and Long Range Toddy finished in second-to-last place. If there’s anyone who benefitted from this, it’s Prat and Country House, who were able to take advantage of the two affected horses slowing down to sneak into second place and end up in a position where a disqualification against Maximum Security would make them the winners. Otherwise, it really didn’t look like they were going to catch up to the horse that, and I cannot stress this enough, led the pack the entire way.
The stewards saw things differently, however. After nearly 20 minutes of deliberation, they determined that barely interfering with horses that didn’t come anywhere close to winning during a tight curve was egregious enough to warrant taking down a Kentucky Derby winner, and hand that title to the horse and jockey that finished second—who, may I remind you, likely only called for this objection as a last-ditch effort to see if he could get lucky.
Saturday’s review was the latest example of the growing annoying trend where video replays are asked for in the hopes that the tiniest of margins fall in the challenger’s favor. It’s like when a baserunner beats the throw and steals second, only to be called out minutes later because an extreme close-up of a slow-motion replay showed their hand coming off the bag for a quarter of a second while the baseman’s glove was still on their back. While technically a correct ruling, it’s one that goes against the spirit of the rule while dragging us towards a deeper descent into a world of insanity where nanometers determine the outcomes of sporting events.