Bobby Zen

Two days after an exciting three-way photo for the win in the GI Kentucky Derby, public speculation continued to simmer about the roughly-run stretch battle between the second- and third-place finishers.

It’s the second time in five years that the stewards at Churchill Downs are being openly questioned over why they didn’t announce an inquiry to let the public know they were actively investigating a potential infraction in America’s most important and historic horse race.

But despite the mild controversy that is largely playing out online and on social media, none of the human connections of any of the top three horses under the wire in the Derby lodged an objection in the immediate aftermath of the race, nor have any of them since made public statements to the effect that they believed an inquiry or disqualification was warranted.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) on Monday released a statement that pointed out that all races in the state receive stewards’ scrutiny, even if the inquiry sign doesn’t always get posted.

That same statement also noted that Tyler Gaffalione, the jockey aboard runner-up Sierra Leone (Gun Runner), has been summoned to a film review on Churchill’s next day of live racing, May 9.

Next-day film reviews are standard procedure in North American racing, and jockeys are often asked to appear even when no inquiry, objection or disqualification has occurred.

Sierra Leone and eventual third-place finisher Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) battled in near-lockstep between the three-sixteenths pole and the finish wire in the May 4 Derby.

Sierra Leone, who has shown a repeated tendency to lean in during his stretch runs throughout his brief career, was bearing down on the undeterred Forever Young as the two closed the gap on a tiring, but not quitting, Mystik Dan (Goldencents) at the rail.

Mystik Dan prevailed by a nose and was not directly affected by the jostling of Sierra Leone and Forever Young, who finished a nose apart in second and third.

Although Forever Young has not been widely viewed as the aggressor in his tussle with Sierra Leone, he did fight back by engaging in some degree of counter-leaning that reportedly made it difficult for Gaffalione to maintain his balance and/or prevented him from going to a left-handed stick to keep Sierra Leone straight.

Chad Brown, Sierra Leone’s trainer, had explained it this way on Sunday:

“There was some bumping going on. What Tyler was really attempting to do was make room for his left stick, which the horse really respects and keeps him straight, and he was just looking for sort of a pathway to use his left stick. And the bumping, the tight duel between those two horses, it disarmed him with the stick. All he had was a rein to pull on, and it really hurt his momentum…A foul is not only bumping, a foul is actually striking your opponent with the stick. So he didn’t want to do that either…

“I wasn’t surprised [that there wasn’t an inquiry],” Brown continued. “I felt it was going a bit both ways. It’s not always about who initiates it. It’s about the entire race all the way to the wire. [Forever Young] started to lean back in. That’s what horses do.”

Neither Forever Young’s jockey, Ryusei Sakai, nor his trainer, Yoshito Yahagi, lodged an objection prior to the race being made official. Rough translations of their post-race comments from Japanese to English indicated that they both believed the contact between the two colts was the type of heat-of-battle competition that did not merit the claiming of a foul.

In Japan, where Sakai and Yahagi are both based, lodging such an objection is not as commonplace as it is in North America.

A KHRC spokesperson emailed the following statement to TDN late in the day May 6 after its contents were first reported earlier in the afternoon on X/Twitter by Steve Byk of the “At the Races” radio program:

“The Stewards review every race in Kentucky live and by video replay before posting it official and they followed the same procedure for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. After conducting their standard review of the race, determining no further review or investigation was  necessary to conclude there were no incidents that altered the finish of the race, and seeing there were no objections filed, the Stewards posted the Kentucky Derby official.

Following the race, the Stewards ordered Tyler Gaffalione, jockey aboard Sierra Leone, to film review on May 9, 2024. The Stewards conduct film reviews routinely to  review the conduct of jockeys during a race. The Stewards, in their discretion, can take disciplinary action against a jockey following the review. If the Stewards issue a penalty, it will be posted on the KHRC website…”

No Derby-related penalties had been posted on the KHRC site as of 5 p.m. Monday.

Prior to deadline for this story, the KHRC did not respond to a TDN question about whether any other jockey from the three-way photo finish would be similarly ordered to appear at the film review, either in person or remotely.

The KHRC also did not respond to a TDN request to obtain a copy of the stewards’ report for May 4. These daily reports are customarily posted to the KHRC’s website, but that section has not been updated since the final day of the Keeneland meet Apr. 26.

The three stewards currently assigned to officiate at Churchill are chief state steward Barbara Borden, state steward Brooks “Butch” Becraft, and Churchill steward Tyler Picklesimer.

Those are the same three stewards who worked the 2019 Derby, in which Maximum Security crossed the finish wire first but was judged to have fouled Long Range Toddy, and was disqualified from the win and placed behind that rival in 17th place.

In 2019, the stewards’ post-Derby adjudication process lasted 22 minutes and played out on national TV as they debated whether Maximum Security‘s shifting out while leading on the far turn caused crowding that affected rivals in close pursuit and almost triggered a clipping-of-heels accident.

Two jockey objections were lodged in the 2019 Derby, but only one of them was initially announced to the public. The stewards five years ago were criticized for not posting any inquiry into the incident, but at that time the KHRC essentially gave the same answer that the agency did on Monday–that just because the “inquiry” sign isn’t lit, it doesn’t mean the stewards aren’t examining in the situation.

When Maximum Security‘s owners unsuccessfully sued in federal court to try and get the DQ overturned, their lawsuit cited “the absence of any inquiry” by the stewards. The lawsuit also alleged that the three Churchill stewards were “not truthful” when they issued a post-DQ press statement that said they “interviewed affected riders,” because two rival jockeys whose horses appeared to lose momentum and position later told the media that they never spoke to the stewards.

One of those jockeys who told the media in 2019 that he never was asked for his side of the story by the stewards was Gaffalione, who was aboard War of Will, the horse who wasn’t directly fouled but almost fell as the result of the incident.

This coming Thursday, five years and five days after not having a say in that 2019 Derby DQ, Gaffalione will have a formal opportunity to explain what happened in the 2024 stretch run of the Derby.

The post Controversy Swirls Over Derby Non-Inquiry, But Affected Connections Aren’t Disputing Officiating appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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