No horsin’ around this Derby season

It doesn’t take much for me to commandeer a laptop and “use the whip” on the keyboard, so to speak, in rattling off about something I know nothing about.

But in dipping into the archives for today’s essay, we find especially uncharted waters as it involved horseflesh matters.

Not to worry. I can fake it.

This one is fitting, however, as today you should be reading about the Kentucky Derby.

Not from me, probably. It took something totally bizarre to lure me into commenting on the track when, only a year ago, The Derby threw a shoe.

So let’s saddle up and relive it.

***l

So after all these years it turns out that horse racing actually has rules.

Who knew?

But you dedicate a good two minutes every year to the sport and think you’ve got it down pat. And then …

I don’t claim to be an expert here.  

What I know about horse racing is that most of the horses seem to have four legs and the race is mostly for your betting pleasure.

Many of the race tracks have day jobs as slot machines.

But, really, it always seemed like the simplest of sporting enterprises.

Horsies line up. Some don’t seem to like the gates they are led into. They must not care for them. When the gates open up, they run away from them fast. As fast as they can. And keep turning left (in merry old England, they might keep turning right. I’m not positive on this, but it seems I’ve heard that or read it on the internet).  Anyway, only a very trained eye (not mine) has any idea which horse is leading on the backstretch and which are on the take. It’s all kind of a blurry, mish-mash.

Sometimes sorting it out may require a “photo finish,” an innovation made possible by Thomas A. Edison or Alexander Graham Bell or one of those smart inventors.

But one of them crosses the finish line first. A rich guy in an expensive  pastel suit and a white tie comes down and takes his picture with the horse and the little guy called the “jockey.”

In your bigger races, expansive floral arrangements may be involved with the post race ceremony.

Really, that’s about all most of us know, needed to know or cared to know about the “Sport of Kings” (and, no,  I have no idea why it’s called the Sport of Kings but it just is).

And then came this year’s Kentucky Derby, aka, “The Run for the Roses.”

It was an education for many (most) of us. I’ve been mulling it over, letting it sink in while working up the courage to weigh in on the controversy without benefit of a clue of what did or should have happened.

The only Kentucky Derby rules I was aware of involve big women’s hats and seersucker for the menfolk.  Violators are sometimes forced to drink this vile concoction called a “mint julep” — one part vinegar, one part rubbing alcohol, one part Chevron unleaded and four parts bourbon with the traditional sprig of pine straw on top.

But I now feel sufficiently educated on the intricacies to go to print with it.  

And it turns out there are other rules involved.

This year’s Kentucky Derby, in fact, broke 144 years of tradition in that the winner of the race, Maximum Security, did not actually win  the race. Something called Country House was declared the winner.

Being “declared” the winner lacks the majesty of roaring across the finish line first, but apparently it pays off the same at the betting window.

There is, indeed, some fine print involved.

Maximum Secretariat, it seems,— or wait, maybe it was Maximum Security —  got in two of the other horses way, in a word “impeding” their movement.

Yeah, OK. But what’s your point?

So what?

You can’t box out and barge your way to the finish line?  

Every self-respecting, paint-swappong NASCAR driver in America was laughing in an if-you-ain’t-cheating-you-ain’t-trying sort of way.

But let me see if I’ve got this straight.

You have these semi-wild animals who speak or understand very little English and you expect them to know and understand these petty rules.

Moreso, you put 20 of these high-strung beasts on a very muddy track and expect them to run hell-bent-for-leather in an orderly single file?

To me, right after the race, Maximum Security looked totally oblivious to the fact that he’d done anything wrong. Or else that horse is a heck of an actor.

He looked innocent as a new-born colt for all 22 minutes of the video review, probably wondering where his roses were.

And, face it, when you’ve got 20 horses on a track in a sport where eight is the norm, it really is more of stampede than a processional. What do you expect?

But that’s just me, who don’t know nothing.

But the five or six people in America who do understand the sport have all (begrudgingly it seems) explained that, technically, the disqualification was correct and proper by the letter of the fine print.

Happens all the time, they’ve explained, in the 525,588 minutes of the year when we aren’t really paying attention.

It doesn’t matter that Country House was not one of the two horses that were impeded, and that the two that were affected were not going to win the race anyway — I don’t know how they know they weren’t going to win, but they’re the experts here.

And a rule is a rule.

Never mind that it took 22 minutes to review it from 45 different angles in high-def.

How did the Derby handles these things in 1875?

Anyway, thanks for the horse racing education.

But now the upcoming Preakness and every subsequent televised race will be subject to the fickle rules of golf, which is to say amateur rules experts will be watching closely on the flat screen and phoning in their protests to decide things.

Well, golf, which still has no equal when it comes to unexplainable minutiae in its rule book, had the good sense to deep-six those exercises.

We’ll see what happens on the horse-betting tracks.

But I still think the Kentucky Derby owes that horse an apology.


You can reach Scooter Hobbs at shobbs@americanpress.com

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