By now you know that Country House became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby due to the disqualification of another horse for interference.  But do you know the process behind the decision?

The General Assembly created the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to regulate horse racing in the Commonwealth.  In doing so, the General Assembly granted the commission broader authority than most state agencies.  For example, the commission is vested with “forceful control of horse racing in the Commonwealth with plenary power to promulgate administrative regulations prescribing conditions under which all legitimate horse racing and wagering thereon is conducted.”  KRS 230.215(2).  The commission’s administrative regulations provided the framework for Saturday’s events.

Stewards – 810 KAR 1:004

First, you may be wondering who decides whether a horse is disqualified.  This job is performed by the stewards.  Three stewards attend and monitor all horse races in Kentucky.  Two of these stewards are commission employees, and the third is employed by the racing association (i.e., track) hosting the meet.

Stewards are empowered to “exercise immediate supervision, control, and regulation of racing” on behalf of the commission.  This includes “authority over all horses and all persons, licensed or unlicensed, on association grounds during a race meeting as to all matters relating to racing.”  Pertinent here, stewards also determine all questions, disputes, protests, complaints, and objections” related to racing.

To qualify as a steward, an individual must meet one of three criteria: (1) attend an accredited school and pass a written and oral exam; (2) have served as a racing official for at least sixty days per year during three of the preceding five years; or (3) have been an owner, trainer, jockey, veterinarian, or breeder for at least five years and observed the stewards in the stewards’ stand for at least thirty days.  Stewards must also have at least 20-20 vision, be able to distinguish colors, and not have a financial interest in the outcome of the race.

Interference – 810 KAR 1:016

The rules of horse racing contain a simple provision related to interference:

A leading horse if clear is entitled to any part of the track.  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 a jockey strikes another horse or jockey, it is 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.

The rule’s language demonstrates that whether action constitutes a foul does not depend upon the horse’s position, the point in the race, or anything other than whether the horse swerves or is ridden so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede another horse.  Therefore, whether Maximum Security interfered specifically with Country House is immaterial to whether a foul occurred.

Objections – 810 KAR 1:017

Objections to racing conduct may be filed only by an owner, trainer, jockey, or race official.  An objection related to interference, improper course run, foul riding, or other matter occurring during the race must be made before the race results have been declared official.

Decisions on Objections – 810 KAR 1:017 & 810 KAR 1:029

Upon receiving an objection, the stewards are required to make all findings of fact related to the alleged interference.  These hearings are closed to the public and formal rules of evidence do not apply.  If the stewards determine that interference has occurred, the stewards must also determine whether and to what extent a horse should be disqualified.

(3) In determining the extent of disqualification, the stewards shall consider the seriousness and circumstances of the incident and may:

(a) Disqualify and place the offending horse, and any horses coupled with it as an entry, behind any horse that may have suffered by reason of the foul;

(b) Disqualify and declare the offending horse, any horse coupled with it as an entry, unplaced;

(c) Disqualify the offending horse, and any horses coupled with it as an entry, from participation in all or any part of the purse;

(d) Declare void a track record set or equaled by a disqualified horse, or any horses coupled with it as an entry;

(e) Affirm the placing judges’ order of finish and suspend the jockey, if in the stewards’ opinion the foul riding had no effect on the order of finish; or

(f) Disqualify the offending horse and not suspend the jockey, if in the stewards’ opinion the interference to another horse in a race was not the result of an intentional foul or careless riding on the part of the jockey.

In Derby 145, the stewards chose option (a).  The stewards found that Maximum Security interfered with War of Will, Bodexpress, and Long Range Toddy.  Of those horses, Long Range Toddy ran worst at 17th.  Therefore, the stewards moved Maximum Security from 1st to 17th and correspondingly bumped other horses up one position.

Betting – 810 KAR 1:016 & 810 KAR 1:017

Horse players know that a bettor may not cash a ticket until the tote board shows “official.”  (Hopefully they also know not to discard “losing” tickets until the tote board shows official.)  The results of Derby 145 remained unofficial for more than twenty minutes while the stewards determined the objections.  As we now know, Country House was declared the winner following this review.  But can pari-mutuel payouts be changed once a race is declared official?  The short answer is no.  “The decision of the stewards as to the official order of finish for pari-mutuel wagering purposes is final and no subsequent action shall set aside or alter the order of finish for the purposes of pari-mutuel wagering.”

This rule has been implicated once before in the Derby.  In 1968, Dancer’s Image crossed the finish line first.  Two days later, a urine test indicated that Dancer’s Image had been administered a prohibited substance.  (All winners are drug tested.)  Dancer’s Image was disqualified and Forward Pass was declared the winner.  While the winning purse was redistributed among horse owners, pari-mutuel wagering payouts were not affected.

What now?

Maximum Security’s owners have pledged to review legal options.  Stay tuned for a future post that explores these legal options.  It took four years to finally sort out the legal battles following the disqualification of Dancer’s Image in 1968.