TORONTO — A prominent voice in Canadian horse racing says the wild finish at Saturday’s Kentucky Derby has “opened up the debate” about how the sport is governed in the U.S. and Canada.
Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson says the controversial result may have played out differently if North American racing authorities were to follow an approach that’s been adopted in almost every other country.
Lawson, who sits on the executive committee of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, says race stewards ruled correctly when they disqualified Maximum Security for impeding the path of another horse.
The 9-2 second choice initially appeared to have backed up his undefeated record with a 1 3/4-length victory over Country House on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.
However, the victory was overturned 22 minutes later when stewards disqualified Maximum Security due to interference, bumping him down to 17th place and elevating Country House to the winner’s circle.
Lawson says in most countries, Maximum Security’s victory would likely have been upheld because officials have more discretion to determine where each horse would have finished had the interference not occurred.
“If the stewards say, ‘No, the best horse won’ — then they leave it,” Lawson said in a phone interview Sunday, referring to countries that follow what the IFHA refers to as “Category 1” rules for interference.
Under so-called “Category 2” rules, however, officials have no such discretion — if a horse is determined to have interfered, it is placed behind the horse that suffered the interference, regardless of what would have been the outcome had there been no interference.
In the case of Saturday’s Derby, Maximum Security was determined to have bothered all but two of the other horses in the race, dropping him into 17th out of 19.
It’s the first time in the Derby’s 145-year history that the winner was disqualified for interference. One of Maximum Security’s co-owners has criticized the disqualification as “egregious” and said he was pondering an appeal.
Lawson said the incident has rekindled a long-simmering debate in racing about harmonizing the rules across all jurisdictions. Almost all countries have adopted Category 1 interference rules, including Australia, Japan, France and the United Kingdom. Canada and the U.S. are among the last holdouts.
“The balance of the world is very critical of North America, and the United States, for not adopting Category 1,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump was also upset with the result, tweeting that the “best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby — not even close!”
— with files from The Associated Press
Adam Burns, The Canadian Press