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More than once relatively early in my career at The Star I thought about leaving the news business and going into public relations. The main reason was that periodically I felt the urge to get back to Louisville, my hometown, but I was never able to get a reporting job at the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The closest I came to getting a job in Louisville — and this was before I met Patty in 1983 — was after interviewing for a p.r. job with Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is based there. I didn’t get the job, partly because I had no experience with convention and conference planning, which they wanted.

I can’t tell you how lucky I was I didn’t get that job. I would have been miserable — probably would have quit, and who knows where I would have ended up.

I remember an old friend saying to me later, disdainfully, “You don’t want to work for the Colonel and his greasy minions.”

…People in the newspaper business used to — and maybe still do — call it “going to the dark side” when reporters, editors or other editorial employees shift from newspapers to public relations.

It can look attractive from a distance — regular hours, a better salary and fewer deadlines — but it’s a total change of mission. From a mission of gathering facts, seeking the truth and exposing it, you go to promoting the business or institution you’re working for. Image burnishing is Job 1, while the truth may or may not take a place somewhere down the line.

The night-and-day difference between p.r. and working for a newspaper jumped at me once again today, when I read how UMKC pushed a phony story relating to the fatal shooting of a graduate student in July 2018.

Twenty-four-year-old Sharath Koppu, a native of India, was killed while working at a restaurant at 54th and Prospect. The Star initially reported, as police had said, that Koppu was working at the restaurant. But after internal discussions and emails among UMKC officials, Chancellor Mauli Agrawal issued a statement saying Koppu had not been working but instead had been “assisting family friends” at the restaurant.

Today, the skilled investigative reporting team of Mike Hendricks and Mara Rose Williams exposed the truth about Koppu — indeed, he was working at the restaurant — and why UMKC wanted to conceal his employment there. To quote Hendricks and Williams:

“Koppu’s off-campus job violated his F1 visa, which could have led to a federal investigation and put UMKC’s lucrative international student enrollment at risk. A precipitous drop in foreign students had already cost the university millions of dollars.”

Under U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulations, international students are prohibited from working off campus, seemingly because they could be filling jobs that U.S. citizens otherwise would have.

Hendricks and Williams obtained numerous emails that led up to Agrawal’s decision to attempt to hide the fact that Koppu was working at the restaurant. (An interesting fact that Hendricks and Williams did not report is that Agrawal had only been on the job about three weeks at the time Koppu was killed and the internal jousting over how to describe his role at the restaurant was taking place.)

One UMKC official who weighed in on the issue was media relations director John Martellaro, a former assignment editor at The Star. Martallero is a good guy and was a good journalist, and his instinct to tell the truth came through in an email he wrote to his supervisor, Anne Spenner, a UMKC vice chancellor who had previously had worked at The Star and had risen to the rank of assistant managing editor.

John Martellaro

Martellaro wrote: “I think saying he worked there is vital to establishing that he was an innocent victim and not someone who was engaged in violent activity. I doubt the legal formalities will come into play here.”

But Kevin Truman, vice provost for international initiatives, lobbied hard against quoting the police department account of what Koppu was doing at the restaurant.

“Let’s not emphasize where he worked,” Truman wrote. “I doubt that he had a work authorization.”

The emails do not show what position, if any, Spenner took or what she recommended to Agrawal. Ultimately, however, she issued the statement under Agrawal’s signature.

…You had, then, two former newspaper editors, groomed and accustomed to rooting out the truth, caught in a debate where it was in the university’s financial interest to misrepresent a key fact related to a case in which one of its student’s lost his life.

It’s easy to see that this incident probably left Martellaro frustrated and disgruntled. He’s on the record in a good way and can be proud of the position he took in the email. (I just hope he doesn’t pay a price for expressing an honest opinion and having it reported in the newspaper.)

Anne Spenner

We have no idea how Spenner reacted, but, knowing her, I would think the big lie that the international initiatives department advocated also rubbed her the wrong way and made her lose some sleep.

Whatever the case, when they go back to work in the morning, Martellaro and Spenner will still have impressive-sounding job titles, but they’ll also still be in jobs that too often make it very hard to feel good about what they’re doing.

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Patty and I and two friends of ours, Julie Koppen and Jim Gottsch, bolted from the Kansas City rain a week ago Monday and spent eight days in beautiful, vibrant Tampa Bay.

I thought surely we would outlast the bad weather in Kansas City, but — wouldn’t you know it? — the night we were supposed to return, Tuesday, the tornadoes hit, and KCI was shut down for a while.

Instead of getting back at midnight Tuesday, as scheduled, we spent the night at a La Quinta in Houston. We caught a Wednesday morning flight to New Orleans — tacking back the direction we had come from — and finally got on a flight to Kansas City about 3:30 Wednesday. After that 21-hour odyssey, we were happy to get back home, but, wow, we we sure had fun in Florida.

Jim and Julie bought a two-bedroom bungalow in northernmost Clearwater two years ago, and Jim, a contractor, has been fixing it up slowly but surely.

It was the first time I’d vacationed in Tampa Bay in more than 40 years, and it’s nothing like it was then. It’s a booming area of about 2.8 million people, with the most populous cities being, besides Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Jim and Julie’s place is a block south of a city named Dunedin, a happening place with a lot of bars, restaurants and retail stores. Our favorite restaurant was Hog Island, which offers a wide variety of fresh fish.

Jim and Julie’s house, while not on the water, is within a stone’s throw of Pinellas Trail, a former railroad route that extends more than 35 miles from Tarpon Springs in the north to St. Petersburg. The trail, popular with bikers, joggers and walkers, is less than 100 yards from Jim and Julie’s house.

To orient you, here’s a map of Tampa Bay peninsula…

Now, photos from our trip…

Pinellas Trail

One day, Jim and I and Luther Hendricks, who lives two doors from Jim and Julie’s house, went fishing in the Gulf on a charter boat.

It was beautiful out there.

And the fishing was pretty good…We mostly caught “grunts.” And they do make that kind of noise.

Kevin, our fishing “adviser” on the charter, partially cleaned them for us. (I finished that messy job back at the house.)

Luther cooked them the next night…and they were tasty.

A couple of days we stayed around the house…On this day, Julie and Jim planted a Live Oak tree in their front yard. (That’s Luther watching on.)

I failed to take a picture of their house, but I took one of the doorbell. Julie found the crab at a store and Jim mounted it.

Julie and Patty went to Honeymoon Island Beach one day. (Jim and I demurred.)

We went out to eat a lot, this particular evening at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill at Clearwater Beach.

Twice, Jim and I went to Tampa and Ybor City, a historic Tampa neighborhood (above).

Tampa’s Riverwalk, along the Hillsborough River, is impressive.

Looking across the river, we spotted some minarets, which piqued our curiosity.

We got back in the car, crossed a bridge and discovered that the minarets were part of the former Tampa Bay Hotel, a 511-room resort hotel built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant. It opened in 1891 and operated during the winter months for several years. After Plant died, the city took it over in 1905. In 1933 it became home to the University of Tampa, which still occupies it. Part of the building — a National Historic Landmark — is the Henry B. Plant Museum.

A ballustrade near the lobby.

The natural beauty was the best, though, and the memories will linger.

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I see from a story in the morning paper that Quinton Lucas is trying to make points by criticizing Jolie Justus’s acquiescence in the Sly James-Burns & McDonnell gambit to build a new KCI terminal without bids.

Lucas is a smart guy, and that is an exploitable issue, but I don’t think it’s going to get him very many votes. Here’s why…

For starters, Lucas, like the 11 other council members (besides James and Justus) had every chance at the time to jump up in the spring of 2017 and say, “Hell, no, we’re not going to proceed with a no-bid contract!”

But they didn’t. A strong majority was poised to go along with the no-bid contract until, basically, The Star’s editorial page blasted the deal and demanded that proposals be solicited from other companies. That resulted in several months of reconsideration and, ultimately, the council tossing out Burns & McDonnell’s proposal and going with that of Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate.

Like The Star, I was one of the lone voices expressing skepticism about the Burns and Mac deal. On May 18, 2017, the day Burns and Mac officials first addressed the full council about the deal, I published a post asking, among other things, “how much of a voice…would the public, or even the city, have in design of the terminal” and “how much money would Burns and Mac stand to make.”

Quinton Lucas asked several questions that day, too, including who would control the revenue flow — the city or the developer — but before he asked any questions, he declared, “I love the project!”

…The crux of the matter is the Burns and Mac deal was born of frustration and opportunity. The frustration lay with Sly, Jolie and others who realized KCI was a disaster and needed to be razed but were confronted with surveys showing large swaths of voters were dead set against a new terminal. That opened the door for “the hometown team” to seize opportunity and present city leaders and the public with a deal that would pluck the project from the dead-wood pile.

So, for Lucas to say now that Jolie and Sly should have rebuffed Burns and Mac’s overture — and that he would have done so — should be dismissed out of hand. I think every council member except Teresa Loar, who had her head in the sand, badly wanted to see a new terminal at KCI, and Burns and Mac’s proposal appeared to them to be a way to move forward when hope appeared to be lost.

…The airport project will now move ahead under Jolie’s capable leadership. She’s going to be our next mayor, and KC residents will get the benefit of her grace, equanimity and vast political experience for at least four years. Go Jolie!

**

I hope most of you read Andy Marso’s excellent take-out Sunday on the Johnson County hospital “building boom.” It was very long — nearly 3,800 words — but an easy and interesting read.

The gist, as captured by the headline, was that Johnson County was getting the lion’s share of hospital construction, while large parts of Wyandotte and Jackson counties are going “medically underserved.”

Marso is right on target, and it’s too bad, in some ways, that the biggest proportion of privately insured people — those who provide hospitals their biggest profit margins — is in Johnson County. At the same time, though, many of us benefit from the disparity.

I recently got pulled, somewhat reluctantly, into the Johnson County medical industrial complex after doing most of my medical business at facilities and with doctors connected with North Kansas City Hospital.

Here’s how that came about…

I was at Kansas City Orthopaedic Institute — a small, specialty hospital on College Boulevard — for a knee replacement in February. I was supposed to spend two nights at KCOI and then go home. But the day after surgery, I experienced an episode of heart failure. When EMTs arrived, the lead EMT asked me which full-service hospital I’d prefer to go to. Now, I don’t know why she asked me that because she already had made up her mind where I was going. But, anyway, I said, “St. Luke’s on the Plaza.”

That’s when she said, “We’ve got to take you to the nearest full-service hospital, and that’s St. Luke’s South.”

I once again requested St. Luke’s on the Plaza but she was firm, and off we headed to 123rd and Metcalf (lights not flashing and sirens not blaring, thankfully).

Over the next five days, I made the acquaintance of several physicians at that hospital, including an ER doctor, a hospitalist, a cardiologist and a pulmonologist.

The cardiologist became my cardiologist, and the pulmonologist became my pulmonologist. In addition, I’ve had to make two additional ER runs since then, and both times — by my choice and to Patty’s chagrin — I chose St. Luke’s South.

Those are my guys out there now, and I’m grateful Johnson County has a boat load of top-notch medical facilities.

…Oh, if you’re worried about me, stop. I’m still kickin’ and fully expect to be doing so for quite a few more years…

 

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The loud gulp you heard today was the McClatchy Co. swallowing another big egg representing millions of dollars of continuing losses going back to its ill-fated purchase of Knight Ridder in 2006.

Last week, on the basis of McClatchy’s conference call regarding its first quarter financial results, I said it appeared the company was close to selling the Kansas City Star printing plant, McClatchy’s last big real estate plum.

This afternoon, The Star posted a five-paragraph story saying the printing plant was being sold to a “hospitality” company for $30.1 million — about 15 percent of what it cost to build the plant ($200 million) in the mid-2000s. The Star will lease the building back for 15 years with annual, initial payments of $2.8 million.

The “good news” here is that the $30 million will reduce McClatchy’s debt to about $715 million.

In one of the worst newspaper deals ever, McClatchy paid $4.5 billion for Knight Ridder in 2006 and also assumed $2 billion in debt.

Pushed to sell by a major, disgruntled stockholder, Knight Ridder fell into a fantastic deal, while McClatchy bought at the worst possible time — when the newspaper industry was starting to fall off an enormous cliff.

In a quote that should live in infamy, then-McClatchy chairman and CEO Gary Pruitt, said, “Opportunities like this come perhaps once in a company’s lifetime…”

Six years later, Pruitt was gone, and McClatchy has been buffeted by big losses and unrealized dreams of a successful print-to-digital transformation. Last year, McClatchy had a net loss of nearly $80 million. For the first quarter of this year, it posted a loss of $42 million.

No wonder, then, that The Star reported the printing-plant sale as almost an afterthought. Better not to call any more attention to this horror show than is absolutely necessary.

…This is the second time in two years The Star reached a deal to sell the printing plant. It backed out of the first deal.

This time, as then, the deal is hazy. Back in 2017, The Star said it was selling to an entity out of Chicago called R2 Capital LLC. In its report on the deal, The Star said nothing about R2’s background or even where it was from.

Today’s report was similarly spare, saying: “The agreement transfers ownership of the building to Ambassador Hospitality, LLC for a price of $30.1 million. The sale closed Wednesday.”

When you Google Ambassador Hospitality, the first listing is to Ambassador Hotel Collection, and there is nothing close to Ambassador Hospitality thereafter. Kansas City has an Ambassador Hotel that is part of the “Collection,” but I wouldn’t think that’s the company that bought the printing plant…Why would a hotel group be buying a printing plant? Menus, maybe?

The mission of The Star and McClatchy is to dig deep and tell readers what’s going on in their communities. The Star, then, should tell its readers more about Ambassador Hospitality — what it is, where it is, what it owns — so people know what’s going on with one of Kansas City’s most prominent and attractive downtown buildings. (P.S. See my Ambassador comment, which I posted a few hours after publishing this piece.) 

Once again, The Star has disappointed when it comes to covering itself. But is it any wonder? This is a media company in steep decline — owned by an umbrella company in steeper decline.

The leading McClatchy executives — CEO Pat Talamantes, CFO Elaine Lintecum and VP of Operations Mark Zieman — must think they’re smart, playing some cat-and-mouse game, holding back information.

But I think within a year or two some bigger cat is going to devour the mouse. Yes, Talamantes, Lintecum and Zieman will probably float away on big, golden parachutes. But maybe we’ll be able to finally put this mess of a company in our rear view mirror.

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I think most of you know one of the things that really galls me is lazy reporting.

Regardless of how few editorial staff members The Star gets down to and how thin they are stretched, it is never acceptable, on a story that cries out for explanation, to regurgitate a few paragraphs from a press release and slap the story on the website.

But that’s what happened Friday with a story about a conviction in a 2017 Jackson County murder case.

The story caught my eye partly because the defendant looked creepy in his mugshot and partly because of the headline — “Raytown man sentenced to 22 years for murder, robbery in Blue Springs.

The headline piqued my interest because 1) you see very few murders out of Blue Springs and 2) you don’t see a lot of murderers coming out of Raytown.

When I clicked on the story, by a reporter named Katie Moore, I saw that it was only four paragraphs. Here’s how it read…

A man was sentenced Friday to 22 years in prison for a shooting outside a Blue Springs restaurant that left one person dead in November 2017.

John D. Jeffries, 26, of Raytown, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery. A judge sentenced him to 22 years in prison, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said.

Police responded to the incident outside Bethlehem Cafe in the 1500 block of N.W. Woods Chapel Road. Witnesses gave a description of the shooter and officers spotted a man in the area who matched the description. Jeffries was taken into custody and charged.

Clinton Peckman, of Paola, was killed.

What bothered me about this story from the get-go was the lack of clarity and detail, particularly relating to what connection there was, if any, between Jeffries and Peckman.

Jeffries

Wouldn’t you agree that from the context, it appears this was a case of a man approaching a stranger outside a restaurant, robbing or trying to rob him, and then killing him?

It’s hard to read it any other way.

Now, there are few things that alarm the public more than random robbery-murders because they happen too often and we can all envision it happening to us. So, it is very important in reporting cases of violent crime to let the readers know, to the best of your ability, if violent crimes are random or if the principals knew each other and the crime was the culmination of some previous interaction.

As it turns out, this was not a random robbery-murder.

Moore, the reporter, had simply grabbed a press release from the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office website and dashed off a story without bothering to go to a link called “charging documents” that offered much more detail about the case.

The charging document is a police “probable cause” statement that explains the murder evolved from events that took place earlier the day of Nov. 9. It started shortly after 7 a.m. with a report of shots being fired in Independence, apparently by Jeffries. About three hours later, a woman whose car Jeffries had damaged called police to say Jeffries was at an apartment complex called Autumn Place in Blue Springs.

The statement does not say what Jeffries was doing at Autumn Place but it says Peckman worked there, and at some point that morning Peckman’s and Jeffries’ paths crossed. They apparently did not know each other before that day.

Shortly after 11 a.m. the two men arrived in the Bethlehem Cafe parking lot in a mini van. Jeffries then shot Peckman, who was in the driver’s seat, jumped out of the car and carjacked a nearby couple at gunpoint. He quickly wrecked the car, however, and took off on foot but was soon caught by police after a brief chase.

Jeffries was charged with second-degree murder for killing Peckman, and he was charged with robbery for taking the couple’s car at gunpoint. Peckman was the victim of murder but not of a robbery.

**

The press release was deceiving. It raised obvious questions. The reporter needed to go beyond it to find out what happened and clear up the mystery. The information was at her fingertips. All she had to do was click on the link and she would have known what happened and could have explained it to her readers in a couple of additional sentences.

Too bad for Kansas City Star readers she took the lazy approach. Her story left the readers in a fog.

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The McClatchy Co. appears to have a deal to sell The Kansas City Star’s printing plant for about $32 million, about 15 percent of what it cost to construct the plant before it opened in 2006.

In announcing its first-quarter financial results this morning, McClatchy reported this under the heading of “real estate activity”:

“On April 26, 2019, the company completed the sale of a small distribution center in Miami, FL, and expects to complete another sale of real property that will allow it to reduce first lien debt by approximately $32 million by the end of the second quarter of 2019.”

In March, the Kansas City Business Journal reported that the printing plant was for sale for $31 million. As far as I know, McClatchy has no other building worth close to $30 million.

During today’s conference call, Elaine Lintecum, McClatchy CFO and vice president of finance, said she would not reveal any details about the pending deal, including identifying the prospective buyer.

McClatchy has planned for bout two years to sell the building to reduce debt, which now stands at $745 million, and lease it back from the new owner. In addition to printing The Star, the building at 16th and McGee prints several other papers and publications.

Two years ago McClatchy reached an agreement to sell the printing plant for an unspecified price to a nebulous entity called R2 Capital LLC, which may have been out of Chicago. But McClatchy backed out of that deal, with one commercial realtor, Jerry Fogel, speculating McClatchy decided it wasn’t getting an adequate price for the plant.

The decision to build the plant was made by The Star’s previous owner, Knight Ridder, in the early 2000s. At the time, Art Brisbane was publisher of The Star. The plant opened about the time McClatchy closed on the purchase of the Knight Ridder properties in June 2006.

McClatchy sold The Star’s longtime headquarters building at 1729 Grand for $12 million in 2017. The buyers, local developer Vincent Bryant and several partners, are redeveloping the property for a variety of uses, including retail.

When it put both buildings up for sale in 2017, McClatchy was asking for a combined $46 million. It subsequently agreed to sell the two buildings — to different buyers — for $42 million.

With the headquarters building going for $12 million, that meant the price for the printing plant, back then, was about $30 million. If the new, proposed sale of the printing plant should go through at $32 million, it would be only a $1 million increase over the previous agreed-upon price.

**

As usual, McClatchy’s quarterly results were more bad than good.

Some of the lowlights…

:: The red ink continues to flow, with McClatchy reporting a net loss of $42 million for the first three months of 2019, or $5.34 per share of stock. In the first quarter of 2018, the company reported a net loss of $38.9 million, of $5.04 per share.

:: For the first time since it embarked on its transition from print to digital, digital-only advertising revenue was down — down by 5.2 percent against the first quarter of 2018. McClatchy CEO Craig Forman attributed the dip to a “softer news cycle” in the first quarter of this year and “a strategic tightening of website paywalls.”

:: Total advertising revenue was $85.2 million, down 14.7% compared to the first quarter of 2018.

Some of the highlights:

:: The number of digital-only subscribers rose nearly 60 percent from the first quarter of 2018. McClatchy now has 179,100 digital-only subscribers…although that is an average of only about 6,175 for each of of the company’s 29 papers. (The Star has about 12,000 digital-only subscribers. People who take the print edition automatically have digital access.)

:: It was the twelfth consecutive quarter of growth in digital only-subscriptions for McClatchy.

:: The company significantly improved its performance in adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), which the company called a “key metric.”

In news that could be described as good or bad, depending on one’s perspective, the company expects to save about $12 million this year as a result of its 2018 early-retirement program.

Eleven longtime editorial employees were among Kansas City Star staff members who accepted buyouts. The 11 included political columnist and editorial writer Steve Kraske, Johnson County government and business-development reporter Lynn Horsley and photographers John Sleezer and Keith Myers.

The 11 editorial staff members were all earning significant salaries — probably $80,000 or more each. The Star has been hiring new, younger staff members this year. The new new staff members are being paid significantly less, perhaps as little as $35,000 a year, I understand.

…To work for that kind of salary, you have to really be hungry to break into the newspaper business. But it’s certainly a good thing for all of us news consumers that some people are willing to do it. Getting good, accurate information about our communities, nation and world has never been more important.

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Who would like an explanation of what transpired in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby?

Good, good, that’s a nice show of hands, so here we go…

For the third year in a row, it rained in Louisville, and for the second year in a row, I didn’t go to the race. Patty and I were in St. Louis for our niece’s graduation as a nurse practitioner (Master of Science in Nursing). Couldn’t miss that, although I dearly wanted to be in Louisville, even with the steady rain and sloppy track. (One of our most fun Derbies was several years ago when the occupants of the box next to us shared their tarp with us. It was a small but lively party.)

On Saturday, we were relegated to watching the race on TV at a longtime friend’s house. As it turned out, we were much better off watching on TV than being at the track because we had the benefit of numerous replays, as well as the announcers’ and commentators’ explanation of what was going on related to the jockey objections and stewards’ review immediately after the race, in which Maximum Security crossed the finish line first.

(We didn’t get to see the last five minutes of the TV broadcast because our hostess just could wait no longer to show us YouTube video of her new boyfriend playing keyboard with his band.)

…The more I watch the video of this race the more I think it’s one of the most interesting and intriguing Derbies ever run. From sheer compelling viewing, it ranks with the 1933 Derby, in which the jockeys of Brokers Tip and Head Play grabbed and whipped each other coming down the stretch. That Derby came to be known as the “Fighting Finish.” Brokers Tip won by a nose, and the stewards let the result stand because both jockeys were equally guilty.

The first time I watched the replay of Saturday’s bumping incident, I said, “They’re not going to take down Maximum Security; they’ll let the result stand.” But as the replays from different angles kept coming, I changed my mind.

The official Derby chart described the foul like this…

“Maximum Security…veered out sharply forcing War of Will out into Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress nearing the five-sixteenths pole.”

Luis Saez thought he’d won Saturday’s Kentucky Derby on Maximum Security. But 22 minutes later, Maximum Security was disqualified for interfering with three horses, including War of Will, far left, trailing Code of Honor.

In racing, veering out is a serious matter because it can put the wayward horse and others in peril.

Maximum Security’s abrupt shift to the right deprived two long shots, War of Wills and Long Range Toddy, of any chance of winning the race or finishing higher and winning more money.

The latter two were moving strongly, moving up on Maximum Security, the 9-2 favorite, who was leading. (The fourth horse involved in the tangle, Bodexpress, was farther back and caught the tail end of the mishap.)

Unlike many people, I don’t think Maximum Security would have won the race had he not bumped War of Wills and caused the chain reaction bumping. To me, it looked like War of Wills posed the greatest threat to Maximum Security. He had saved ground on the rail all the way around the track and was moving outside of Maximum Security nearing the top of the stretch. If he had not been interfered with there, I think there’s a good chance he would have passed Maximum Security and Country House and gone on to win. 

The riders of both War of Will and Long Range Toddy had to pull up briefly, and were it not for the quick, steadying hold jockey Tyler Gaffalione took on War of Will, that horse could have gone down, and several other horses could have followed in chain reaction. But for Gaffalione’s reaction, a mishap could have been a tragedy.

Obviously, it takes a while for horses to get back to full speed after having to break stride. That’s why War of Will and Long Range Toddy lost all chance of winning or finishing higher. War of Will ended up finishing eighth (behind Maximum Security), and Long Range Toddy dropped all the way back to 17th.

**

Watching the race live on TV, I did not see the bumping and grinding. It happened very fast, and as usual in the Derby, I was watching the primary horse I had bet on, Tacitus, who was farther back but starting to gain ground. (He ended up crossing the line fourth and being moved up to third after the DQ. I bet him to win and place but not to show.)

But then word came that an objection had been lodged by a jockey.

I’m not sure who filed the first objection — whether it was jockey Flavien Prat, who was riding Country House, or Jon Court, who was on Long Range Toddy. I’ve read conflicting accounts of which jockey filed first. At any rate, both those jockeys called the stewards and made their cases for disqualifying Maximum Security.

Oddly — and stupidly — Mark Casse, the trainer of War of Will, the horse most directly affected by the bumping, would not allow his jockey, Gaffalione, to lodge an objection…I think Casse saw his deferring as a sort of professional courtesy to the trainer of Maximum Security, Jason Servis, with the expectation (?) that Servis might some day return the favor…Like I say, stupid. This is the Kentucky Derby, you boob!    

**

During the 22-minute review, a couple of questions edged into my mind.

:: First, with the foul being so obvious, why hadn’t the stewards initiated what is called an “inquiry”? When there is a problem during a race, a review can be initiated afterwards in either of two ways: The stewards can declare an inquiry, or one or more jockeys can lodge objections.

At the track, a sign typically goes up on the tote board alerting the crowd there is an “inquiry” or an “objection.” Traditionally, the inquiry sign is a more likely indicator of a pending disqualification than a jockey’s objection. Many jockey objections are spurious and thrown out in short order. But inquiries mean the stewards saw something on their own and decided to examine in depth.

Chief Kentucky racing steward Barbara Borden, after Saturday’s Kentucky Derby

For some reason, Churchill Downs stewards have gotten away from initiating inquiries and, instead, have waited for jockeys to file objections. That is a very bad policy. The stewards have any number of camera angles at their disposal, and they are in the best position to quickly review races and see if anything looked askew.

A writer named Gregory A. Hall wrote this in Blood Horse Magazine…

“When an objection is lodged without the formal posting of an inquiry, it leads to what happened in the Derby: veteran race viewers operating under the assumption that whatever happened must not have been that bad because it wasn’t obvious enough that stewards called an inquiry…Just waiting for an objection leads many to believe that, but for that objection, the foul wasn’t seen and no disqualification would have resulted.”

Kentucky rules should be changed, Hall said (and I completely agree), requiring stewards to post the inquiry sign whenever they initiate a review on their own.

:: The second question that came to my mind was what the Churchill Downs crowd of 150,000 was being told about the objections and the review. It is chaotic at the track after the Derby even when the race is run clean and clear: People are either racing to the exits or rushing to the betting windows to cash tickets. But I’ll bet the vast majority of people at the track were totally confused about what was causing the extended delay in announcing the official result.

In his opinion piece, Gregory Hall said the crowd was told about the first objection but that to his knowledge they were not apprised of the second objection — actually the more important one. I wonder if  the crowd was explicitly told the objection involved a claim of interference by Maximum Security for bearing out at the five-sixteenths pole. I doubt it.

Hall said: “So the second rule change needed is that any and all objections should be announced to the crowd. Not just the first objection filed.”

**

It was a wild affair, and I urge you to look at this video to see just how far Maximum Security came out and how much he affected the horses beside him. I could be wrong, but I think NBC showed this particular replay just once, after showing the incident from other angles several times. This is the telling one, and it shows why the stewards ultimately took down the 9-2 favorite and gave the win to a 65-to-1 horse. In the history of the Derby, only one other Derby winner, Donerail in 1913, went off at longer odds — 91-1.

In one straightforward, unequivocal sentence (the last one), the official Derby chart summarizes exactly what happened:

“Following the stewards’ review, MAXIMUM SECURITY was disqualified and placed seventeenth for veering out and stacking up WAR OF WILL, LONG RANGE TODDY and BODEXPRESS.”

I love that term “stacking up.” That says it all, and it says why the $1.86 million, first-place money went to the connections of Country House, the most deserving horse.

(The runner-up received $600,000, the third-place finisher $300,000, fourth place $150,000 and fifth $90,000.)

…Did I mention I love it when the favorite doesn’t win (when I don’t bet it, of course)? The favorite had won six years in a row, but not this time. Heh, heh, heh…

Country House finishing second before being elevated to first

P.S. I have made two corrections and a couple of changes to this post since it first went up at 4 a.m. today. One correction was the amount of purse money the winner received, which I initially said was $3 million. That was the amount of the entire purse, divided among the top five finishers.

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