Richard Connor: The best horse wins the race – except when he doesn’t

Last year's Derby winner – almost: Maximum Security crossed the finish line first in 2019 but was disqualifed for interference. (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

The best horse does not always win the race.

Horse racing taught us that on May 4 at the Kentucky Derby when the horse who led the race from start to finish, Maximum Security, was disqualified from first place to 17th for interfering with other horses in what amounted to improper lane usage.

Racetrack wags will be talking about this race for many years. It was the first time in history that the Derby winner has been disqualified for an infraction that occurred during the race. Many will talk about how the correct decision was made within the rules of horse racing, a sport that has lacked rules forever, and they will dive into the intricacies of the decision. Their explanations will bore us.

It’s simple. Horse leaves starting gate headed for the finish line and runs 1¼ miles. Fastest horse wins. Horse’s owners win a lot of money. Fans who bet on the winner also reap a monetary reward. Racing is big business and it’s also gambling. Over $6 million was bet on Maximum Security to win. Those ticket holders lost money and confidence in this largely unregulated sport, which already had been losing the public’s trust and affection.

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At home in North Texas on the same Saturday, we learned the lesson again when two incumbents, Marty Leonard and Jim Lane, were re-elected to the Tarrant Regional Water District’s board of directors, where they have served since 2006. During that time, they have largely supported the TRWD management while it turned a blind eye to the gross mismanagement of the massive Trinity River Vision project, aka Panther Island.

Leonard and Lane are good people and have been selfless public servants for many years but they were not the best horses in the water board race.

There were three other qualified candidates seeking to win election to the board, mostly on the promise they would restore it to good governance, impose desperately needed oversight on the river project, and ensure the transparency and public accountability required of a tax-supported entity.

The candidates finished in this order: Mary Kelleher, herself a former board member; C.B. Team; Gary Moates. The Business Press endorsed Team and Moates.

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When we endorse we do not look at our efforts as a win/lose proposition. We spent some in-depth time with Team and Motes, more time than most voters would be able to, and we believed they were the two best horses in that race. An endorsement is just an informed opinion and we do not expect it to greatly effect an election outcome.

The results would indicate we have nothing to worry about on that score.

We believe the Panther Island project has been woefully mismanaged and if we have accomplished anything in our news coverage of the project, our election endorsements, and our ongoing criticism of the TRWD it’s been in the form of whatever role we’ve played in raising awareness of the serious problems that exist.

Over 60,000 votes were cast in the water board election and somewhere around 28,000 of those were for the non-incumbents. The votes for those three candidates show that folks are becoming aware of the Trinity River Vision problems and the water board’s complicity in those problems.

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Perhaps Leonard and Lane will begin to demand more accountability from the senior management at the water district. Voters demonstrated their loyalty to and respect for the two incumbents by giving them new four-year terms. Leonard and Lane should return that loyalty and respect by resolving to confront and correct the problems at the agency they are charged with overseeing.

The fact is, only one of the two needs to change course. Two members of the five-member board of directors, James Hill and Leah King, have shown an inclination to demand more from the district’s management. If either Leonard or Lane would join them in charting a new direction, real change could result.

Otherwise, we might have to wait until the next water board election. Perhaps next time voters who want things to change will be able to coalesce around one or two candidates rather than splitting their votes among various challengers and inadvertently validating the status quo, as happened this time and has happened several times in past elections.

There is growing dissatisfaction with the way things are going and there is public empathy for the business owners along White Settlement who have been seriously damaged because of traffic jams and confusing detours while we await completion of bridge construction projects mandated by a Panther Island master plan that calls for rerouting the Trinity for the purpose of flood control while also creating a riverfront development bonanza.

It wasn’t just one “best horse” that did not win on May 4. The best horse didn’t win the Derby and the best candidates for water board change didn’t win the election.

But there will be another Kentucky Derby next May, a race in which the first horse to cross the finish line, we hope, will actually win the race. And there will be another water board election in 2021 with three seats up for grabs and three more chances for change at the voters’ fingertips.

Meanwhile, we await horse racing redemption in the Preakness Stakes on May 18 and redemption of the Panther Island debacle some day, some way, some how.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at