LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Kentucky Derby had been run for 144 years before Saturday, the results ranging from tour de forces by all-time greats, and upsets by improbable longshots, on days when the sun shined bright on the old Kentucky home, and when it rained as though Noah’s Ark would come sailing down the stretch.
In that time, a winner had been disqualified for a post-race medication violation, and another had been disqualified from fourth to fifth for bothering a rival in the race. But not until Saturday was the original winner disqualified for an incident that happened in the race.
Maximum Security now holds that inglorious title. He led the 145th Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs from nearly start to finish, but was disqualified by the stewards and placed 17th after being ruled to have interfered with several rivals, including Long Range Toddy, the original 17th-place finisher, when he ducked out 550 yards from the wire while on the lead.
The beneficiary of the stewards’ decision was Country House, a 65-1 shot who had crossed the wire second but was promoted to first when the ruling was announced long after the race ended. If the Derby is the greatest two minutes in sports, the time it took the stewards to render a decision was the most agonizing 22 minutes in sports.
The stewards – Barbara Borden, Tyler Picklesimer, and Butch Becraft – came to the media room more than two hours after the Derby, after the last of the day’s 14 races, and read a statement but took no questions.
Borden, the chief steward of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, read the statement. She said the decision was unanimous. She said both Jon Court, aboard Long Range Toddy, and Flavien Prat, aboard Country House, claimed foul against Maximum Security and his jockey, Luis Saez.
She said the stewards determined that Maximum Security “drifted out and impacted the progress” of War of Will, “in turn interfering” with Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress.
“Those horses were affected, we thought, by the interference,” the statement read.
Borden said Maximum Security was placed behind Long Range Toddy because he was “the lowest-placed horse that he bothered, which is our typical procedure.”
The only previous horses disqualified in the Derby were Dancer’s Image, who had the 1968
Derby win taken from him owing to a medication violation, and Gate Dancer, who was moved from fourth to fifth in the 1984 Derby.
The decision was a crushing blow for Saez, trainer Jason Servis, and owners Gary and Mary West, all of whom would have won the Derby for the first time had Maximum Security stayed up.
Instead, first-time Derby laurels were bestowed upon Prat, trainer Bill Mott, and the ownership group of Maury Shields, Guinness McFadden, and the LNJ Foxwoods Stable of Larry, Nancy, and Jaime Roth.
“It feels pretty darn good,” said Mott, a Hall of Famer who admitted it was a “bittersweet victory.”
“I’d be lying if I said it was any different,” Mott said. “You always want to win with a clean trip and recognize the horse as the great athlete that he is. I think due to the disqualification some of that is diminished.
“That being said,” Mott added, “I’m pretty damn glad they put our number up.”
Mott said that the magnitude of the race should not impact the decision.
“If it was an ordinary race on a Wednesday, I think they would have taken the winner down,” he said.
Saez, while waiting for the decision to be announced, said Maximum Security “got scared from the crowd.” He said he realized Maximum Security was trying to drift out, but he grabbed him “right away.”
“I don’t feel like I bothered anybody,” he said.
Servis, after the decision was announced, said that he was worried because of how long the inquiry was taking.
“It’s not good that it took that long,” he said.
“Right now I’m kind of OK,” Servis said. “I’m sure tomorrow I might not be.”
The incident that led to the disqualification occurred as the horses were nearing the end of the far turn, at approximately the five-sixteenths pole. Maximum Security was on the lead, and War of Will, who had been following him, started to come between he and Long Range Toddy, who had been just to the outside of Maximum Security. Country House was rallying outside all of them, in the four or five path.
Maximum Security ducked out, going to about the four path, and for two strides War of Will’s front legs were precariously between Maximum Security’s hind legs. War of Will checked, as did Long Range Toddy, who had been under a ride at that point to keep up. Country House was outside the commotion, and Code of Honor – who had been behind War of Will entering the far turn – seized the opportunity to slip up the rail and actually poked his head in front for a stride a quarter-mile out.
After straightening away in the lane, Maximum Security held his line, with Code of Honor to his inside, War of Will to his immediate outside, and then Country House farther out.
War of Will was the first to yield, but hung in there until the final sixteenth before fading to eighth. Code of Honor finished steadily, but never could get past Maximum Security. Country House was the biggest danger to Maximum Security through the final furlong, but he could not get past him either.
Maximum Security crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths in front of Country House, who was three-quarters of a length in front of Code of Honor. Tacitus, a second entrant trained by Mott, was the original fourth-place finisher, three-quarters of a length behind Code of Honor. All three got promoted one spot when Maximum Security was demoted, giving Mott the first- and third-place finishers in the race.
After Tacitus, who officially was third, the remaining final positions, in order, were Improbable – who went favored at 4-1 – then Game Winner, Master Fencer, War of Will, Plus Que Parfait, Win Win Win, Cutting Humor, By My Standards, Vekoma, Bodexpress, Tax, Roadster, Long Range Toddy, Maximum Security, Spinoff, and Gray Magician.
Omaha Beach and Haikal were scratched.
Nearly all the fractions – as well as the final time – belonged to Maximum Security. He ran the opening quarter in 22.31 seconds, the half in 46.62 seconds, and six furlongs in 1:12.50. Code of Honor was in front after a mile in 1:38.63, and Maximum Security recorded a final time of 2:03.93 for 1 1/4 miles on a track that was rated sloppy following steady afternoon rain that lasted until nearly post time.
Maximum Security was the second choice in the race at 9-2. Country House was the 18th choice of the 19 runners. Country House paid $132.40 for $2 to win. He is the second-longest shot to win the Derby, behind Donerail, who was 91-1 in 1913.
Country House, a colt by Lookin At Lucky, was bred by Shields’s late husband, Joseph V., who died in October. Country House raced six times prior to the Derby, with just one win, that in a maiden race at Gulfstream in February. Saez rode him that day.
Country House then finished second in the Risen Star, and fourth in the Louisiana Derby, both with Saez up. At that point, Country House needed additional points to make the Derby, so Mott ran him in the Arkansas Derby on April 13, with Joel Rosario up. He finished third that day, behind Omaha Beach and Improbable, gaining enough points to make the Derby field.
But he still needed a rider, as Rosario was committed to Game Winner, and Saez to Maximum Security, who had won the Florida Derby on March 30 for his fourth win without a defeat.
Mott waited for some dominoes to fall to find a rider. A few days after the Arkansas Derby, Mike Smith – who had won the Arkansas Derby on Omaha Beach – chose that colt for the Derby over Roadster, whom he had ridden to victory in the Santa Anita Derby.
Both Richard Mandella, who trains Omaha Beach, and Bob Baffert, who trains Roadster, had made contingency plans in case Smith did not choose their colt. Mandella’s option was to go back to Prat, who had ridden Omaha Beach in his first five starts. But when Smith took Omaha Beach, and Baffert put Florent Geroux on Roadster, Prat was, for a moment, without a mount.
It had been a challenging few weeks. Prat had given up Omaha Beach to ride Galilean when it looked like both would end up in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 16. Smith took the mount on Omaha Beach, and even though they ended up in different divisions of the race when it split, Smith had the mount.
Yet that fateful decision by Prat kept him from being named on Omaha Beach for the Derby, and likely sitting the race out when Omaha Beach scratched. Prat wound up on Country House after Mott came calling to Prat and his agent, Derek Lawson.
“It turned out I made a poor choice,” Prat said of taking Galilean over Omaha Beach, “but it turned out great.”
For him, not for the connections of Maximum Security.
“They’ll be speaking about the result of this race until they run the next Kentucky Derby and 10 Kentucky Derbies and 20 Kentucky Derbies,” Mott said. “But I’m gonna take it.”
– additional reporting by David Grening
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.