Let’s start with troubles at the Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, California. The Los Angeles Times reported three days ago that the horse Commander Coil broke down with a shoulder injury during training at Santa Anita and was euthanized. This happens to horses. But the recent history at Santa Anita is not good. Some 24 thoroughbreds have died since December 26th of last year!
This is unprecedented. While the number of deaths has greatly declined, the track has remained under a microscope. Four full-time investigators have been reviewing the cases. The L.A. County District Attorney has created a task force to study the matter. Seventy subpoenas for documents have been issued.
No single cause has been identified. Rather, the rise of deaths is “multi-factorial” according to one expert. The spate of these horse deaths is baffling. As the LA Times reported, “The fact that Santa Anita went so long without a fatality is almost as big of a statistical anomaly as the original cluster of deaths.” Tragic.
But now let’s turn our attention to this year's running of the Kentucky Derby. The extensive coverage of NBC television of this event almost rivals the Super Bowl. For a race that lasts all of about two minutes, the pre-game is unlike any other sporting event.
Bob Baffert is a premiere racehorse trainer. The 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify were two of his projects. Of the Triple Crown races, his horses have won five Kentucky Derbies, seven Preakness Stakes, and three Belmont Stakes. His three horses were shut out this year. That alone was a bit odd.
However, this year’s Kentucky Derby will be remembered like none other. The horse that finished first in the running, Maximum Security, did not win. A technical foul removed the horse and jockey from contention and so the second place horse, Country House, was declared the winner. It was a first in Kentucky Derby history.
That brings us to the Preakness Stakes run last Saturday. For those who watched the Kentucky Derby, they will recall that the disqualified horse Maximum Security veered into the path of the horse named War of Will. And who should win the Preakness? War of Will. Of note, neither Country House nor Maximum Security even ran in the Preakness!
And now it gets really weird. Yes, War of Will finished first. But here’s the headline from nbcsports.com: “The real winner of the Preakness was Bodexpress, the jockey-less horse.”
The jockey-less horse?? Yes, indeed!
Here’s the way it unfolded: “Jockey John Velazquez was unseated off of Bodexpress out of the gate, and the riderless No. 9 horse continued to run with the pack. Stewards flagged the incident but quickly cleared it and listed him as ‘did not finish.’” It even took the outriders quite a while to get Bodexpress off the track.
The writer of Ecclesiastes makes an interesting point. He says, “I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11, NLT)
In my dream 2020 Kentucky Derby, trainer Baffert would have jockey John Velazquez ride the fastest horse Bob trains. And John would win. I would name the steed…Poetic Justice.
How's that for a horse tale?
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