It's hard to imagine making the Kentucky Derby a much more popular event than it is already, but I have an idea that could lead to increased public interest in the competing horses, heighten the level of security and transparency, and save Churchill Downs money.
For this year's 139th Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Churchill Downs worked together on a security plan that began on April 30, the day entries were taken for the race. Jefferson County sheriff's deputies were assigned to each of the 21 horses entered. From 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., uniformed officers monitored all of the activity surrounding their horse, logging information about when the horse left his stall and came back, who went into the stall and why, and any treatments that were given to the horse. Syringes were confiscated and tested. In addition, out of competition testing was conducted on horses that were expected to run in the days before entries were taken.
From 6 p.m.-6 a.m., security wasn't quite as tight, with one officer assigned to each barn that housed a Derby entrant.
One horse, Vyjack, was singled out for even tighter security when the KHRC's license review committee and the horse's trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, agreed on a plan for video surveillance that was a condition of Rodriguez being licensed in Kentucky.
And that's where my idea comes into play.
The KHRC used a surveillance system from a company in Nashville, Tenn., www.stallwatch.com, that is popular among horsemen who like to keep tabs on those rare occasions when they're away from the barns.
The system has as many as four cameras, uses infra-red technology that makes night vision clear, and is accessible on a smart-phone app. There are no lights, and the cameras do not bother the horses in their stalls. Cloud storage makes video replay accessible for a week or more. And the cost is far from exorbitant.
So where does a superior video surveillance system intersect with a plan to make the Kentucky Derby even more popular than it currently is?
For next year's Kentucky Derby, install cameras on every one of the Kentucky Derby contenders. Put the live feed at the official website for the Derby, permitting fans to watch their favorite horses around the clock as the big day approaches. Trust me, they'll be fascinated by the daily habits of these horses and will get to know the grooms, assistant trainers, trainers, and even the veterinarians.
Instead of hiring dozens of off-duty sheriff deputies to watch over each horse, Churchill Downs and the KHRC can get a few people to keep an eye on the monitors. If all the Derby horses are stabled in one of a few stakes barns, security officers can collect syringes and maintain logbooks.
Call me crazy (I've been called a lot worse), but I don't see any downside to this. It would bring the public closer to the game than they've ever been before without intruding on the horses in any way, and adds the kind of surveillance that will help prevent tampering or rule violations, ensuring the integrity of America's greatest race.
(Note: Thanks to Paulick Report reader Craig Brogden of Machmer Hall who, in a published comment following the Rudy Rodriguez license hearing, originally suggested putting security cameras in the stalls of all Kentucky Derby horses and making the feed available to fans.)
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