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Louisville Equine School Brings the Derby DQ to the Classroom
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Louisville Equine School Brings the Derby DQ to the Classroom

In a year when the Kentucky Derby didn’t end at the Churchill Downs finish line, Terri Burch, coordinator of the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program, says “we’ve got a lot of material for this upcoming semester.” 

The lengthy steward's review, disqualification of Maximum Security and subsequent lawsuit filed by the colt’s owners hoping to overturn the results will all contribute to the upcoming curriculum for the four-year program, which offers a business degree and courses covering a wide range of topics for future racing professionals. 

Sean Beirne, the Equine Industry Program’s director, could, for instance, discuss the case in his introductory equine law course. Burch also teaches a class on current industry issues in which she’ll recount her Derby day experience in the Churchill grandstand. 

“One of the big things I talk about a lot is crisis management planning," she said. "You have to plan for it before it happens. Once it happens, what’s the protocol, and how do you go through it?” 

This crisis was a wait of more than 20 minutes after Maximum Security crossed the finish line for results to go official. While viewers at home have NBC’s array of experts explaining the process, those on track are left to wait. 

Similar to an NFL rules expert on a broadcast, Burch suggests an on-call steward to “deescalate the situation” by explaining the stewards’ process via the in-house signal. 

“With social media and things, you get all these people who were there and witnessed it,” she said. “They’re sending it out on their social media, and if they have big follower groups, things get picked up and kind of go viral without those people knowing all the facts and what’s happening.” 

With Positive Spirit’s tumble leaving the gate in the Kentucky Oaks, plus Bodexpress’ toss of rider John Velazquez in the Preakness Stakes, there are other high-profile incidents to discuss in the classroom. Burch said they’ll also be part of the University of Louisville’s on-campus continuing education course for stewards this fall. 

Accredited stewards from all over the country visit to fulfill their mandatory 16 hours every two years, bringing with them video of the different situations they’ve had to rule on lately. The courses are open to Equine Industry Program students to attend, with this a year of special interest given an unusual Triple Crown season. 

“The comments I’ve read are, ‘Why did the stewards not put up the inquiry sign?’” Burch said. “There’s a whole process when stewards watch a race live. Before they make it official, they go back and watch the replay to make sure they don’t see something. If someone files an objection, sometimes that happens before they finish their process.” 

Burch said she’ll discuss the speed at which stewards could conceivably place a Derby field of 20 — with or without an inquiry — and methods that could smooth the process on big race days when a national TV broadcast is involved. 

“Just trying to piece all that out makes your hair gray,” she said. “It’s a difficult process. But I think our stewards, they did a great job. They took their time and made sure that they were satisfied.” 

Given the University of Louisville’s role educating both undergrads and professionals, students can plan on the opportunity to hear more about it this fall.

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