To millions of people who wanted to see Genuine Risk make history by winning the Preakness, what happened at Pimlico was a shocking outrage.
Television viewers watched replays over and over that showed Codex foul the filly. They heard ABC's commentators say that Codex surely would be disqualified if this were any race but the Preakness. And then they saw Pimlico's stewards airily dismiss the foul claim.
In remarkably large numbers, angry viewers phoned the track, newspaper offices, television stations and even Codex's trainer to protest this gross miscarriage of justice.
But when people's perception of truth and justice comes from a 17-inch screen and the mouth of Howard Cosell, they are likely to be misinformed. And they are badly misinformed in this case.
There was no miscarriage of justice in the Preakness.
Codex beat Genuine Risk on Saturday because he was a much superior horse. His infraction was minor. And whether this was a historic Preakness or a $3,000 claiming race, the vast majority of stewards at the vast majority of race tracks would have left his numbers up.
Attempting to become the first filly ever to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Genuine Risk had made a powerful move outside Codex on the stretch turn. As she did, jockey Angel Cordero Jr. permitted Codex to drift wide, carrying the filly even wider,jostling her.
Cordero seemed to wave his ship in the filly's face (although her jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, claims Cordero actually hit her). After this intimidation, Genuine Risk seemed to lose momentum, and Codex ran away from her to a 4 3/4-length victory.
In any race there will be a certain amount of bumping, and stewards do not disqualify horses just because they made contact. A foul has to have a palpably serious effect to justify a disqualification.
The last disqualification in a major stakes race for the current generation of 3-year-olds occurred in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, when Rockhill Native caused crowding that almost knocked Cordero's mount over the rail, forcing the jockey to stand up in the irons and drop back 10 lengths. That's a palpable foul.
But when Codex brushed with Genuine Risk, the filly and her jockey didn't lose their rhythm for more than a stride or two. At worst, Codex's offense was a judgment call for the stewards.
Stewards everywhere are lenient about infractions at two particular stages of a race: at the start, when it is hard for a jockey to make sure a horse breaks perfectly straight; and on the turns, where centrifugal force causes horses to bump each other. Horses rarely are disqualified for jostling on the turn as long as they straighten out in the stretch and maintain a true course thereafter.
There is another important reason infractions committed on a turn often are overlooked. Stewards can't penalize what they don't see.
When horses are running on the stretch or backstretch, head-on cameras can show how much contact actually occurred between them. On a turn, there is no way to see things so clearly.
Television commentator Eddie Arcaro said Saturday that there was "no doubt that Codex ran into the filly," but I watched ABC's films of the incident at least 50 times yesterday and I still couldn't swear there was contact. Neither could the stewards.
Cordero knows all this. He is not only the most gifted rider in America, he is the most calculating. He frequently carries rivals wide on the turn, or shuts them off on the rail, and gets away with it. He knows that way the rules of racing are commonly enforced and he can almost always stay within an inch of the limits of the law.
He would not have been foolish enough to commit a flagrant foul. But he did try, deliberately and unsportingly, to take an unfair edge.
As it turned out, this was an edge he did not need.
People who watched Codex draw away from Genuine Risk after the bumping incident naturally concluded that the filly had been seriously hurt by it. If Codex had won the Preakness in unimpressive time, and it was apparent that Genuine Risk had not run her race, I might have shared that opinion.
But Codex won because he ran awesomely well, and it is a pity that the foul-claim controversy has obscured the brilliance of his performance. He ran the third-fastest Preakness in history. He ran a better time than accliamed superhorses Spectacular Bid and Affirmed. Genuine Risk is a fine filly but she is not in that class.
She was not going to win the Preakness even if Cordero spread out a cape in her path, and justice would not have been served by a disqualification. c