I wrote most of this in an e-mail to some friends, and have decided to post it here. Know that I did not bet a cent on Bayern, and had no viable wagering interests in this race. Know that I am not looking to rekindle any anger, and I do not welcome further debate about this. I’m merely encouraging us all to put aside our feelings and take a step back from the hysteria, so that we may evaluate the facts with clear heads, move on, and look forward.
I understand the stewards’ decision and likely would have done the same.
What happened at the start is very unfortunate and definitely changed the complexion of the race, but I do not think that Bayern’s connections planned that, which many people are suggesting. (I had originally taken this point a bit further, but as has been quite rightly pointed out to me, I should defer to those with actual riding experience rather than make presumptions.)
The main problem here is that there really aren’t any clear-cut rules about taking horses down for infractions at the start of a race. Even on normal days at the track, you rarely see inquiries into the start, let alone the stewards actually taking action over such fouls. I watch a lot of races—just about every race run in New York—and I can’t think of even one example in the past year of a horse getting disqualified for coming over at the start. When there is so much uncertainty involved, the stewards prefer not to wield their power, and I’d rather it be that way than the alternative.
It’s not the stewards’ job to handicap races.
Some say that the stewards should concede that Shared Belief would have finished ahead of Bayern because he’s the superior racehorse and would have gotten a better trip if the foul had not occurred, but that’s a slippery slope. It’s not the stewards’ job to handicap races. When making their decisions, they should be regarding every horse as having exactly the same chances of winning as any other horse in the race. If you apply that logic to this situation, there was no way they could have taken Bayern down.
Ponder this: What if it had been Footbridge and Imperative breaking just inside of Bayern instead of Shared Belief and Moreno? Would anyone even be talking about this incident? Bob Baffert quite justly brought up what happened at the start of this year’s Preakness Stakes, when Bayern was eliminated at the start in similar fashion. (Watch the replay, if you don’t remember.) Bayern was not the star of that race, so people barely took notice.
I know that some regard Bob Baffert as a villain of sorts, but whether his reputation is earned or not, you have to put those feelings out of your mind when evaluating situations such as these.
It’s a shame that this occurred in the most important race of the year, especially because this Classic had promised so much, but is it a travesty? No.
Let’s look at the positive.
While Bayern probably didn’t run the best race, you can’t deny that every one of the top four finishers—Bayern included—put in absolutely spectacular efforts. Three horses hit the wire together running a mile and a quarter in 1:59 4/5, yet no one is talking about that. A somewhat moderate pace did cause the race to be run in a merry-go-round fashion, but that doesn’t change the fact that a trio of three year-olds just earned 113 Beyer speed figures going a mile and a quarter.
Let’s instead look at the positive coming out of this race. It’s very likely that Bayern, Toast of New York, California Chrome, and Shared Belief are all staying in training next year. It’s also possible that Tonalist could return, and let’s not forget Wicked Strong, who sat out this round. This might be the best crop of three year-olds we’ve seen in years, and there will be many more battles to look forward to when they turn four.