Is it fair to say, as Bob Dylan once did, ‘that the answer is blowing in the wind’?
Certainly when it comes to horse racing rules, the winds of change are very, very close and North American racing actually needed the upheaval that occurred at the recent Kentucky Derby to be the architect of change.
Kinda like the universe stepped in and said…. “enough’s enough. It’s time.”
For the record, and we aren’t looking so much at the improbability or impossibility of Gary and Mary West’s High Court challenge on the result, we are concentrating on two other important matters re the race.
Firstly, though, I’m not digging into the challenge because, well, the, Kentucky Racing Regulations deem the Stewards’ decision regarding interference of a horse, such as Maximum Security, as a “final order” and consequently not appealable outside of racing circles.
The right to appeal the disqualification of a horse is governed by the Regulations of Kentucky Racing 810 KAR 1:017, Section 4, which is entitled Final Determination of Objections to Acts in a Race.
Rules in racing are like offside calls in soccer or strikes in baseball – they are the domain of the sport, on game day, and unchallengeable outside of that, irrespective of how aggrieved an owner is or in the case of the Wests, how incredibly unfortunate that they race horses in a draconian-run environment where the rules make little sense. Anyway, for the record, the DQ, under how the rules are written right now – ie the Category 2 type – meant the stewards could take Maximum Security down if they so deemed. So they did.
But in doing so they unwittingly so it seems ushered in a paradigm shift. Enter Kim Kelly, the Chief Steward at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. He heads a committee that determines world horse racing rules among other things, and he was and remains outspoken about the rules imposed on Derby day.
Kelly will advocate hard for the Category 1 rules of racing to be made manifest all over the world, including the U.S racing jurisdictions. But before we hear from him, here is the essential difference the two types of categories throw up. In regards specifically to interference rules between Category Two, used in Ky, and Category One, used throughout the rest of the world. At a basic level, the difference is that under Category One rules, they state that once the stewards agree there was interference, they then have to determine which horse would have finished ahead of the other following the scrimmage.
If the horse who was impeded would have finished in front of the offender then the offender is placed behind it. If not, the offender stays where he/she is and the jockey is heavily fined. For Category Two, once it has been determined by the sitting stewards there was interference, the stewards can alter the finish of the race in any way, and the offender will be relegated behind any it impeded….even if the impeded horse would NOT have won the race. Said Kelly, “certainly in Hong Kong, there would be no changes to the placings. Maximum Security was the dominant horse in the race. No case could be successfully argued that those horses, if not for that interference, would have finished in front of [Maximum Security].”
In Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France and England, the interference would not have altered the placings either. “At the top of the straight it appeared as though he was under siege but over the last 200m he actually extended away from the field, so he was clearly the best horse.
“I’d be very surprised if any Category One country would change the placings. It’s likely, from the shots that I’ve seen, that the jockey would’ve incurred some form of penalty.”
Kelly is the chairman of the International Harmonisation of Race day Rules committee of the International Federation of Horseracing and is pushing for all countries to adopt the same approach.
He has been in touch with the American representative on the committee after the Kentucky Derby and has already been invited to address the “USA round table” (their equivalent of the Asian Racing Conference) to explain the merits of Category One.
“In 2011, the Japan Racing Association had a defining moment when Rose Kingdom [was awarded] the Japan Cup and Buena Vista was taken down. Buena Vista was clearly the best horse in the race and under Category One would [have been declared the winner].
“It took something like that for the JRA to change from Category Two to Category One, and since then France and Germany have come on board and all the South American countries are Category One now, as are Australia, New Zealand, Singapore etc.
“I would think that given the amount of comment that I’ve seen and the circumstances of this one, I can see a lot of similarities with what happened in Japan and what has happened in Kentucky. It may well be their ‘Japan Cup moment’.”
Kelly, an Australian who learned how to officiate in Sydney, is adamant the Category One rules are fairer to all involved and went public in the Hong Kong Racing News.
“I think it’s much fairer to punters but also to the connections of a horse,” said Kelly.
“Who does the Category Two philosophy seek to penalise? The jockey is going to be penalised regardless, all it does is penalise people above and beyond the jockey for something they have no control over.
“In Category One, if it can be clearly demonstrated that the horse interfered with would have beaten [the other one] home, punters can accept they should not have won the race under those circumstances.”
And that was not the case in the Kentucky Derby this year.