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Right call, wrong rule: how dud Derby decision helps harmonisation

History shows that the Kentucky Derby call to disqualify Maximum Security – a case of officials correctly applying an unjust rule – could be a catalyst for change in the United States and a positive for globalisation of the sport.

The United States and Canada are the only two major racing jurisdictions that still stand by the archaic protest rules that resulted in Maximum Security – a horse that even US President Donald Trump could see was "the best horse in the race" – disqualified for interference against a horse that faded to finish 17th, and the 65-1 outsider Country House declared the winner.

You know when Trump is tweeting about a result of a horse race that we have reached peak outrage. That's the gravity of the Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse race in the world, and perhaps it was the only race, and type of result, that could convince America to fall into line.

When Buena Vista crossed the line first but lost the 2010 Japan Cup nobody was happy, not even the winning connections. The fallout soon had Japan joining Australia and most other established racing nations in Category 1 of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities protest rules. In France, 2009, it was the demotion of Andrew Lloyd Webber's horse Dar Re Mi in the Prix Vermeille that brought outcry, then change. In 1988 Royal Gait's Gold Cup relegation progressed the conversation about an eventual rule change in the United Kingdom.

Of course America sits on a competitive island of its own creation in many sports, so why does it matter if its racing is any different?

"What happens in America is relevant ... it's all about the globalisation of the sport," says Australian Kim Kelly, Hong Kong Jockey Club chief steward and chairman of the IFHA's International Harmonisation of Rules Committee.

Horse travel has not only allowed international competition to flourish – even if it hasn't been entirely embraced – but now more than ever punters are able to bet on overseas events, sometimes into commingled pari-mutuel pools.

"We have people betting across international borders, legally, and those people need consistency in the way racing is regulated," Kelly says. "Nothing disenfranchises the betting public more than inconsistency. We need to protect the punter and the way to do that is uniformity across critical rules of racing."

Of course the American rules are meant as a safeguard against dangerous "win at all costs" tactics and under them stipes would have stripped Ray Cochrane of his 1998 Caulfield Cup (Taufan's Melody) and Greg Hall of his 1996 Golden Slipper (Merlene). Even the Winx streak could have been cut at three wins given Hugh Bowman was suspended for careless riding in the 2015 Epsom Handicap. You can also include Steven King and Let's Elope the 1991 Melbourne Cup (incidentally, Let's Elope lost the 1993 Beverly D. Stakes under the American rules later in her career).

Australian racing has come a long way since those rough-and-tumble races in which a hip-and-shoulder bump to get out of a pocket was de rigueur. The Australian experience, and elsewhere, has shown that long suspensions and heavy fines for reckless riding are as effective as the Category 2 guidelines in preventing dangerous riding.

Kelly will get the perfect platform – and now a high profile case study – to present a case for change to American officials when he speaks at the annual Jockey Club round table in Saratoga in August.

"The decision in Kentucky was in keeping with Category 2 rules," Kelly said. "There is no perfect system but I think the Category 1 rule is better. The right result for racing is that the best horse on the day wins the race wherever possible."

Last week at Warrnambool, Grand Annual Steeplechase-winning jockey Steve Pateman, speaking with pride about the advances jumps racing has made, said: "Maybe things needed to get bad before they could get good."

A spate of horse deaths at Santa Anita Racetrack resulted in Californian tracks banning raceday use of Lasix – another divisive issue on which North America is an outlier.

Now, the gross unfairness of Maximum Security losing the Derby could result in not just a change for the better on protest rules in America, but a more united sport overall.

Article courtesy of Nine and The Brisbane Times

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