Why would a Horse be Disqualified in a Horse Race?
Updated: 3rd October 2023
In the world of horse racing, surprises are bound to happen. After all, we’re not talking about a sport ruled by humans. Although trainers, owners, and jockeys have major influence over a horse’s form, it all goes down to the horse’s abilities.
A slow horse will surely not win a race if the others are slower. It takes a fast horse to win a race honestly.
Just like in any sport, dishonest behavior also takes place and leads to a horse getting disqualified from a race.
There have been several high-profile incidents in major horse races that have led to the disqualification of not just participants, but winners.
A disqualification is a rare event since all tracks, especially the major races, keep everything under tight control. However, every once in a while, a disqualification can take place. This can happen for different reasons before and after a race.
When Is a Horse Disqualified?
When a horse is disqualified before the race begins, it’s usually because of some kind of interference with another horse.
In most cases, a horse interferes with another and costs him placing.
When a race starts, the horses break from the gate at massive speeds and it’s not uncommon for them to bang in each other. They don’t do it on purpose, of course – they’re just focused on the goal and run their best to reach it.
This happens far more often than you think. In long-distance races, horses can bump into each other or cut each other off resulting in an altered course for one (or both) of them. These are the likeliest scenarios for a horse to be disqualified.
These decisions are called by the race stewards who make sure everyone follows the rules of the race. Whenever they spot that a horse may be altering the rules, they can disqualify it with immediate effect.
Of course, not all incidents are worthy of a DQ. When the stewards make the decision, they first ask themselves if the actions of one horse truly hurt the chances of another to place. If the answer is no, they won’t disqualify that horse.
During a race, it may come under review due to suspicious circumstances reported by a steward or any jockey. The first one is much more common and can lead to disqualification.
When a steward (or jockey) calls for an inquiry, the race announcer will announce that a claim of a foul has been made. The tote board lights will start to blink and the race will be suspended for the time being. All patrons are to hold on to their tickets until the race has been declared official.
In the meantime, race stewards will review videos of the race to see if the claim of a foul is legit. If need be, they can interview jockeys that may or may not be directly involved in the incident.
If the actions of one horse hurt another’s chances of placing, then disqualification will follow.
Sometimes, a DQ comes down to the stewards’ personal judgment call and there’s nothing no one can do to change it.
When it comes to post-race DQ, it may occur if the track determines that a placed horse wasn’t eligible to run in the race. Of course, this is pretty rare since trainers know their horses pretty well.
Even if they make a mistake, the racing office will catch it before the race starts.
A post-race drug test or any call of foul play made post-race may also be reasons for a race to be reviewed and for a horse to be disqualified.
The inevitable redistribution of purse money after a horse disqualification post-race can truly hurt that horse’s rankings.
A post-race DQ may sound silly to many people. However, if a horse’s stallion rating comes down because of it, it will hurt him and his near relatives’ chances to be sold.
It can even hurt any of these horses’ eligibility for other races.
Biggest Disqualifications in the History of Horse Racing
During the rich history of horse racing, there have been many famous disqualifications from major races.
Kentucky Derby 1968 Disqualification – Dancer’s Image
In 1968, Dancer’s Image was the first horse winner to be disqualified from the Kentucky Derby. The DQ was because of a failed drug test.
The horse had chronic problems with sore ankles so he was given a shot of phenylbutazone, a controversial NSAID which helped the horse win the race.
However, post-race urine analysis revealed traces of the drug in Dancer Image’s system, disqualifying the horse from the race.
The second horse winner DQ from the Kentucky Derby came this year and it’s by far the most public one. It’s most likely the most divisive issues in horse racing history and probably the most controversial.
Kentucky Derby 2019 Disqualification – Maximum Security
One of the biggest horse races in the sport, the Kentucky Derby, had a shocking conclusion this year after jockeys filled objection to the final result.
The winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby was Maximum Security, who passed the finish line first before Country House.
The rules of the track say that disqualification will be served to any horse that shifts its position in a manner that impedes other horses.
Although the winner did not materially hurt Country Horse’s placing, it harmed three others on one turn which resulted in a highly publicized DQ.
Maximum Security’s owners blamed Will of War’s jockey for causing the incident but to no avail.
The stewards further put a 15-day suspension on Maximum Security’s jockey for failure to control his mount and Country House was declared a winner.
The horse won at odds of 65-1 becoming the second-highest prize winner after over a century (the first was Donerail in 1913).
Although rare, horse disqualifications happen in the sport more often than one might think. It’s frustrating for the disqualified horse’s team of course, yet it’s all done due to fair play.
Just like the VAR system in football, reviews of horse racing incidents clarify controversial decisions and give the horse that deserved the win the coveted prize.
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