The public imagination may have moved on from horse racing until the first Saturday of next May thanks to Kentucky Derby winner Country House being scratched from the Preakness Stakes, ensuring there will be no Triple Crown winner this year.
But the controversial finish to the race and the disqualification of Maximum Security that set this whole series of events into motion still burns like dragon fire at Churchill Downs.
At issue is Saez and Maximum Security, who were on the rail rounding the final turn, veering out in front of other horses and nearly clipping the heels of War of Will and potentially causing a gigantic — and dangerous — equine pileup.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission cited Saez for “failure to controI his mount and make the proper effort to maintain a straight course thereby causing interference with several rivals that resuIted in the disqualification of his mount.”
Saez’s lawyer, Ann Oldfather, saw it differently, and she saber-rattled in the news media ahead of a potential lawsuit against the race stewards.
According to the Courier-Journal, Oldfather said she was present for a film-room review Friday and “every single jockey in the room” agreed that Saez “did everything he could to control the horse.”
Considering a horse’s natural disinclination when running in a herd in the wild to impede the progress of its fellow horses, it seems unlikely that Maximum Security would literally risk its own hide, since as far as can be determined horses are not terribly aware that there is a prize for crossing an imaginary line first; it’s their jockeys and the whips they use that motivate the equine athletes to that end.
So consequently, it stands to reason it was the jockey, not the horse, who pulled hard right on the reins.
Oldfather also said Saez had a “flawless ride” under “great duress” in the Derby and that she will pursue “every appellate avenue” to overturn the suspension.
Since, like the Nevada commission in boxing, the Kentucky commission has tremendous influence over commissions in other states when it comes to horse racing, this could impact Saez’s ability to find a horse to ride in the Preakness; a Triple Crown payday for a victorious jockey can be a tremendous windfall for that jockey’s financial well-being.
— BloodHorse (@BloodHorse) May 13, 2019
The use of the term “15 racing days” means in Saez’s case that his suspension will run May 23-27, May 30-31, June 1-2, June 6-9 and June 13-14, which — while not including the Preakness itself May 18 — nonetheless will be seen as a potential risk factor to those otherwise seeking to hire the services of the jockey.
Karen Murphy, an attorney for Maximum Security owners Gary and Mary West, issued a statement to the Courier-Journal concerning Saez’s situation.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot to people when you say 15 days, but (racing) is all (jockeys) do,” Murphy said. “(Saez) didn’t do anything wrong.”
The results of the race are set in stone; the Wests attempted to appeal the result, but the KHRC cited its ironclad rule that the decision of race stewards “shall be final and not subject to appeal.”
Gary West has publicly stated he intends to file a lawsuit, which would presumably seek damages not only for the purse taken from him when the Derby result was overturned but also to the future stud value of his horse, which no longer can command the fees associated with a Derby winner.
Saez, meanwhile, headed for New York, where he has been riding horses at Belmont Park during its racing season, which includes the Belmont Stakes on June 8.
He has found success there, riding Global Campaign to a win in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes on Saturday.
So while the racing world turns its attention to Pimlico Park in Baltimore for the Preakness, controversy continues to rage in Kentucky, and a 26-year-old Panamanian with a New York City cab driver’s respect for the flow of traffic awaits a ruling on whether he can continue to make his livelihood in a seasonal sport.
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