LOUISVILLE, Ky. — At the monthly Louisville Forum meeting held Wednesday, experts discussed the safety of thoroughbred horse racing, including the recent deaths at Santa Anita Park and the controversial disqualification of Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security.
Panelists including Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Steve Koch, executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and Donna Barton Brothers, NBC horse racing analyst and former jockey, agreed stewards made the right call disqualifying the winner in Kentucky Derby 145.
After over 20 minutes of waiting, officials announced Country House the winner despite Maximum Security crossing the finish line first due to the horse impeded on other competitors as they rounded the final turn.
"The decision to take the horse down, and I hate to say it, was essentially a no-brainer," Barton Brothers said.
She said the decision took a long time to announce in the aftermath of the race because the stewards were discussing which horses were impacted by Maximum Security, and where they would all place.
Koch echoed her message, adding the stewards involved in the decision are of "the best" in the nation.
"I can say without any doubt that they adjudicate the Kentucky Derby like they did the fourth race on a Thursday afternoon. In that, they are there to enforce two things with a stewards judgement," Koch said. "The integrity of the race, and the safety of the race. and its clear to me at this time that the judgement that they made were to preserve those things and on that afternoon last weekend, they got it right."
Hamelback said he agreed, adding "I will stand behind that."
Panelists also discussed the use of lasix, riding crops, jockey concussions and safety, as well as how the Derby might change as a result of this year's results.
Many have suggested the Derby drop its field size from 20 horses to the 14 racing in all other North American races, but Barton Brothers said she did not think a change would happen.
"I don't think that the field size needs to be reduced," Barton Brothers said. "I think the jockeys over the 145 years of the Kentucky have proven they can ride that race safely, even in a 20-horse field. They ride in bigger fields in Europe than 20 horses."
Barton Brothers said she thinks Churchill Downs could invest in a 20-horse starting gate that may alleviate some problems in the beginning of races, although she said that would not have helped this year's race.