Why Can’t War of Will’s Preakness Win Be Just That?

by John Furgele

The narrative is already in play that War of Will’s Preakness win justifies the DQ of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby. Many now feel that had War of Will not been impeded with he would have blazed down the stretch to win the Run for the Roses two weeks ago.

Stop. Can we please just stop?

We won’t though, because this is what we do in these the modern times. We complain, we’re negative and we always want to be right. Those that think Maximum Security should have won the Kentucky Derby will never change their minds, while those that agreed with the takedown will beat their chests and say they were right 150 times.

Originally, I was one of those that wanted Maximum Security to stay up until I watched the video a few dozen times. In this day and age it is simply too difficult to change the minds of another person and, with social media, it gets downright nasty. As I’ve said to my friends, Donald Trump could rescue a baby from a burning building and not one liberal would praise him. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I do know one thing — it’s sad.

Naturally, as soon as War of Will was declared the official winner of the 144th Preakness, there were those calling his victory a justification. Terms like redemption and vindication were also used. Many who were in favor of the Derby DQ hailed War of Will as a hero for not going down in the Derby. Now, mind you, had he gone down in that race, the pileup would have been an atrocity to see, to the point where the Preakness might have had to postponed or, at the very least, run in front of hardly any fans and broadcasted on PBS.

Why can’t we avoid the hyperbole and all the terms and clichés? Why can’t we take the Preakness at face value — a nice horse race with a determined effort from the winner?

War of Will did everything right.

While others moved over and jockeyed for position, “Will” stayed patient and glued to the rail. When the sea parted and all the horses moved right, he and jockey Tyler Gaffalione skimmed the rail to victory in an impressive time of 1:54.34 for the 1 3/16 miles at Pimlico. That time was the fastest since 2007, when Curlin nudged out Street Sense in 1:53.46. The last horse to break 1:55 was Big Brown in 2008. We know that raw time really doesn’t matter, but be fair: the time posted Saturday was a good one.

Is War of Will a good horse? Yes, indeed. Is he a better horse that Maximum Security? I’m not sure and you know what? Nobody is. To say War of Will would have won the Derby because he won the Preakness is silly. It’s like saying that Kansas City Chiefs would have beaten the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl because they played New England tougher in the AFC Championship Game.

I loved what Mark Casse, War of Will’s trainer said after the win. Instead of using terms like redemption and vindication, he said that he was glad that his colt got another shot to run, plain and simple. That’s what should have been said and my level of admiration for Casse went up significantly.

But, for some reason, that doesn’t happen very often and, sadly, we can’t seem to help ourselves. We love to complain. We love to point out the negative and we love to promote our opinions. There will be those that will point out Bodexpress’s bucking in the gate that caused jockey John Velaquez to be dismounted. Others will point out the death of Congrats Gal in a race on Friday at Pimlico, while others will point out that a 24th horse died at Santa Anita this weekend. They will do everything they can to cast a shadow on the sport of horse racing.

We used to celebrate events in this land; now we celebrate them and complain about them more than ever.  It seems as if everybody is angry and if they can’t be happy, then they want nobody to be happy. Perhaps this mentality has always been here, but I can’t remember it being this bad for this long.

In horse racing, horses are going to die. They will die suddenly of cardiac arrest, they will break legs in training and in races and they will have to be put down. The sport has always been that way. It’s not perfect — and guess what? No sport is, just like no human is. But just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it has to be eliminated.

I don’t want to come off as insensitive and I believe that the horse racing industry has to take more steps to make the sport safer, but it will never be 100 percent safe. We can’t cure all cancers; we can’t prevent all car accidents and we’re never going to prevent all equine fatalities. But as long as we try to, that’s the important thing.

Look at boxing? When sports were being invented, who thought putting gloves on and hitting people was a great idea? Not only has boxing carried on, an even more savage sport called MMA now exists.

Look at auto racing?  Who really believes that driving a race car at 220 mph with 32 other cars on a racetrack is a good and safe idea?

Look at football. Is it really a great idea to have people running as hard as they can and colliding with others on a field that is referred to as the gridiron?

On a broader scale, let’s look at cigarette smoking. Who thought putting tobacco into rolled up paper and inhaling smoke, holding it in your lungs for a few seconds and then exhaling was a good idea? When firefighters do this, they are treated for smoke inhalation, but you and me and can do it by going to a convenience store and buying a pack of Marlboros or USA Gold.

People like these sports. When Mike Tyson was fighting, everybody knew and paid attention; at the end of the month, there will be more than 250,000 fans on the grounds watching the Indianapolis 500 and no sport is more popular than football. A bad rating for the Super Bowl is a 45, meaning 45 out of every 100 Americans is watching a sport that has a high risk of injury. Players have been paralyzed in games, even killed. Yet, 45 to 48 percent of the nation watches the Super Bowl.

The Preakness was cast aside as a junior varsity affair after the top four Derby finishers decided to bail and not run. Despite this, 131,256 showed up at tired Pimlico and total handle was $99,852,653. The day before, over 51,000 went through the turnstiles for the Black Eyed Susan Stakes. Yet, just because the sport is not perfect, many think it should not exist.

I guess I’m sounding old. I like baseball games to be played in 2 hours and 30 minutes — and without 24 combined strikeouts between the two teams. I think the call on the field should stand and each coach/manager should get two challenges — period. If the ball beats the runner, you’re out. No need to challenge that.

Old schoolers like me like to separate. I watched the Derby, a 20-horse race that had controversy. I saw the “winning” horse get disqualified. I accepted it and moved on. I watched the Preakness and saw a great victory by War of Will. Not once did I think of redemption, justification or vindication. I thought, “Wow, he ran a great race.”

My thoughts then moved on to the upcoming Belmont Stakes on June 8. It would be nice to see Maximum Security and War of Will lock horns with, perhaps, 10 others in the race they call “The Test of the Champion.”  But, it’s okay if neither horse runs; if they don’t, we will crown a winner, praise him and hopefully celebrate that.

I know that’s foolish thinking on my part. I already heard NBC’s Mike Tirico say that if War of Will goes on to win the Belmont, would it be fair to say that Maximum Security’s veering denied him the Triple Crown?

We know it will never stop because these are, indeed, the times we live in. We have become self-absorbed; we have become so obsessed with making our point that we fail to see the points of others.

I wish times were different, but they aren’t.

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