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Kentucky Derby outcome ramps up debate over replay in sports

Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss examine what happened at the 2019 Kentucky Derby, where Maximum Security was disqualified and Country House was named the winner.

Over the years, those who have railed against replay have argued that sports must tolerate some degree of human error. That debate has received a boost from an apparent equine error.

For the first time in 145 runnings of the Kentuky Kentucky Derby, officials disqualified the winner due to a foul that few understand, but that was significant enough to flip the outcome from a 9-2 favorite to a 65-1 underdog. Most of the prior runnings lacked the benefit of multiple angles of high-definition video evidence that would have revealed the kind of subtle rump bump that can get a horse tapped on the shoulder. Today, the things that did and didn’t happen during a race (and every other sporting event) can be seen and scrutinized, and decisions can be adjusted.

The availability of a vehicle for fixing problems not spotted in real time should be celebrated, not castigated. But the “get replay off my lawn” crowd has seized on Saturday’s stunning reversal as proof that the reliance on video review is ruining sport. It’s a strange hill to die on, given that it rests on the idea that bad calls are OK.

They’re not OK, especially with legalized gambling spreading quickly from coast to coast. As more and more Americans wager hard-earned money on the outcome of sporting events, the outcome must be as pure and reliable as possible.

No one is arguing that the rules didn’t require the disqualification of Maximum Security, probably because few understand the rules (including the horses). The argument apparently flows from the notion that some would rather have a wrong answer immediately than the right answer eventually.

Those with money regularly riding on the final outcomes of sporting events should prefer the right answer. They deserve the right answer. And if they don’t get the right answer, Congress eventually will implement the kind of regulatory agency that will ensure that they’ll get the right answer.

Many will scoff at the idea of a Federal Wagering Commission (or whatever name they’d give it). But the SEC has for decades promoted fairness in the legalized gambling that is the buying and selling of stock, and it won’t take many gambling controversies to get Congress to do the same thing with betting on sports.

Reliance on replay review to fix mistakes will go a long way toward further complicating football, baseball, basketball, hockey, horse racing, etc. by adding a layer and level of oversight that will expand, not reduce, the instances in which technology is relied upon to get calls right. Which actually could be a good thing, but only if you like your sporting events to be won by the ones who deserve to win.