Spin Cities - By Evan Hammonds

While the heads in the editorial offices of BloodHorse are collectively continuing to spin from the results of the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), there are all sorts of other “spin” out there. From Louisville to Baltimore, it seems everyone wants us to show another angle.

In the days following the Derby drama of the disqualification of Maximum Security from first to 17th, and the elevation of Country House to first, Gary and Mary West, the breeders/owners of the first-place finisher, have been posturing that horses running behind Maximum Security were the ones to blame for the colt’s coming out from the two path to about the four-and-a-half path on the second turn of the Derby. Their attorneys are doing their best to make sure no angle is left unseen.

The Louisville Courier-Journal even released its own version of the race replay online, with dramatic slo-mo camera action of the break, which happened nearly a mile before the infraction occurred, to the first turn, and as the horses were running down the backstretch. At neither call of the race at those points was there any malfeasance nor chicanery…but there is dramatic foreshadowing. The frame-by-frame of the activity on the turn didn’t reveal anything new to us, nor apparently to the stewards of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. We saw it live and plenty of times thereafter Derby night. We stand by the stewards’ call and agree with the 15-day suspension of jockey Luis Saez.

Let’s hope this doesn’t drag on nearly as long as the drama that unfolded between May 1968 and April 1973 as Peter Fuller tried to exonerate his Dancer’s Image after he had tested positive for phenylbutazone (Bute).

Meanwhile, in Baltimore the May 18 Preakness Stakes (G1)—the second leg of the Triple Crown—appears to be a wide-open affair, as is the subject of the future of Pimlico Race Course. The venerable track has seen better days, and seen a section of its grandstand become uninhabitable for the big day. Online images show a chain-link fence surrounding more than 6,000 prime-view seats that are usually filled with knowledgeable, fun-loving racing fans this time of year. The Stronach Group and the Maryland Jockey Club continue to spin for moving the event to Laurel Park, although it is nearly impossible to speak with anyone at the top level a week out from the event. The city of Baltimore filed suit against the MJC in March to seize Pimlico, but the spin there is the suit appears to have few teeth. The mayor of the city had her own issues as well, resigning from office May 2.

Expect the city, state, track, horsemen, and fans to keep their powder dry to spin throughout Preakness weekend.

On the bright side, we see plenty of good in all of this posturing. Horse racing has become relevant again, for however briefly. Friends pull us aside to ask if the disqualification was the right thing. The in-laws are inquiring for our take. People want to know the real story.

Here’s what we do know:

There will be a new classic winner come May 18, with celebrations for breeder, owner, trainer, jockey, and connections. Will it be Derby favorite Improbable? Will the Derby-hindered War of Will prove he really had the goods May 4? Will it be Alwaysmining to give Marylanders a reason to boast for the first time since 1983?

These are all wholesome questions, considering what happened at Santa Anita Park earlier this year and what could have happened on the turn at Churchill Downs.

Considering Maximum Security and Country House aren’t on the grounds at Pimlico, the suspense figures to carry on throughout the summer, lending healthy debate as to the class and quality of the 3-year-old crop of 2019.

People want to see Maximum Security run again to see if he is, indeed, the best of the bunch. People also want to see Country House’s next race to see if he’s classic worthy.

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