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MacAdam: Moving forward, as Derby DQ debate lingers

MacAdam: Moving forward, as Derby DQ debate lingers

Stewards made the right call disqualifying Maximum Security ... but what now?
MacAdam: Moving forward, as Derby DQ debate lingers
The field for the 145th Kentucky Derby heads toward the finish line last Saturday at Churchill Downs.

I get it, some people are tired of hearing about/talking about last Saturday's Kentucky Derby disqualification of the first horse under the wire, Maximum Security, giving Country House the victory.

A week later, the ongoing post-Derby analysis doesn't look any prettier than the sheep's eyeball I dissected in high school biology class.

And there are still more pieces and viscera to be picked at, plucked and rendered to the bone, especially if Maximum Security's owners, Gary and Mary West, sue Churchill Downs and/or the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, as they suggested could happen, in a statement released Thursday.

In the meantime, Luis Saez, Maximum Security's jockey, lawyered up on Friday for a video review of the Derby with the Churchill stewards, presenting their own video that they claim shows how War of Will and even Country House were at least as much responsible for the near-train wreck coming out of the second turn as Maximum Security was.

It's still a fluid situation. My main takeaways, which I discussed with Ken Schott on the Gazette's "Parting Schotts" podcast Thursday, are that the DQ was the right call, but that it wasn't Saez's fault.

So, even if you've had it with Derby DQ talk, here are 10 more quick takeaways and look-aheads that -- I promise -- will take you less than the 22 minutes, 57 seconds of the Derby stewards review to read:

1. Churchill Downs needs to build a Derby-specific 20-stall starting gate to replace the clunky 14-stall main gate/six-stall auxiliary set-up with the awkward gap between.

As War of Will's trainer Mark Casse said during a national teleconference Friday, "I'm not opposed to a 20-horse field; I am opposed to the current starting gate. Every year, you have a lot of problems early, and it's because of the way the gates are positioned and the gap in the middle."

2. Churchill can afford this. The track handled a record $165.5 million in bets on the Derby alone, a big record even without the $4.1 million that was bet in Japan for the first time, and the crowd of 150,729 (down 4% from last year) was paying more than a few bucks for those mint juleps.

Derby weekend is the engine that drives Churchill Downs. Fix the garage door, already.

3. The Derby is always going to be a rough race. My annual inventory of the official race chart shows one or more variations on the following: "brushed," "steadied," "bumped," "traffic," "veered," "crowded," "forced out," "checked hard," "fanned," "squeezed," and "forced to take up sharply."

4. Based on a Sports Illustrated article by legal analyst Michael McCann in which he breaks down the various possible lines of argument and likelihood of success of a lawsuit, I don't believe the Wests will be successful in overturning the Derby outcome if they sue.

"While the stewards’ decision to disqualify Maximum Security is controversial and some would argue wrong, it does not appear to be an irrational or arbitrary decision," McCann wrote.

5. Saez being in the middle of the controversy flashed me back to the 2013 Travers at Saratoga Race Course, not because of any wrongdoing on his part in either case, but just because ... he was in the middle of it.

He won on Will Take Charge by a nose over Moreno, then six days later, Moreno's trainer, Eric Guillot, accused Saez of using an illegal "buzzer," a small battery-powered device to shock his horse for more acceleration in the stretch.

Over a month later, after an exhaustive investigation by the state police and a 39-page report from the New York State Gaming Commission, Saez was cleared.

6. I picked Game Winner and am hoping he makes it to the Belmont Stakes, for which he is a "maybe," according an XBTV interview with trainer Bob Baffert. "Maybe" Game Winner can avoid a wide trip then.

7. Also looking forward to the return of Omaha Beach, the morning-line Derby favorite who was scratched due to an entrapped epiglottis. After minor throat surgery, he has been recovering at WinStar Farm in Kentucky and is scheduled to return to trainer Richard Mandella's barn in California next Saturday.

Who knows, the Triple Crown trail's loss could be Saratoga's gain, if this minor medical issue makes it more likely that Omaha Beach uses the Spa to get back into racing gear.

8. Also looking forward to seeing War of Will, who made a supremely athletic move not to get wiped out when Maximum Security veered away from the rail, in the Preakness.

FYI, he was re-shoed on Wednesday after experiencing some discomfort in his right front, which Casse said Friday was no longer an issue.

"[Exercise rider] Kim Carroll was on him yesterday [Thursday] and will go with him to Pimlico, and she got off him and said, 'He felt like a million bucks,'" Casse said. "I said, 'That's not going to get it.' So this morning [Friday], she got off him and said, 'He felt like 10 million bucks.'"

9. Despite the disqualification, Maximum Security was voted the top 3-year-old in this week's National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll.

Of the 42 voters who participated, 23 (including me) picked Maximum Security on top, 13 picked Omaha Beach and six voted for Country House.

10. Eddie Olczyk is the man. He's in Boston for NBC's broadcast of the Bruins-Hurricanes NHL Eastern Conference championship series and will make a temporary detour to Pimlico for the Preakness call next weekend.

I happened to turn on the radio Friday just when he and Doc Emrick had been invited into the booth for an inning of the Red Sox game. Edzo: "I spent the afternoon at Suffolk Downs [for simulcasting]."

I promised to get you out of here without belaboring it all, so with that, I am forcing myself to take up sharply.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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