In one of the most unpredictable years in horse racing history, the winner of the Kentucky Derby won’t be running in the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, for the first time since 1996.
On Tuesday, trainer Bill Mott said he was pulling Country House from the race because of a cough.
“He developed a little bit of a cough [Tuesday] morning,” Mott told Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form. “His appetite is good. He doesn’t have a fever. But he’s coughing. We drew blood. He’s acting like he’s going to get sick. He’s off the training list, and if he’s off the training list he’s off the Preakness list.”
This comes three days after Maximum Security became the first horse in 145 years to be disqualified from winning the Kentucky Derby because of interference. That’s how Country House became the winner of the race.
All this is on the backdrop of 23 horse deaths at Santa Anita since Dec. 26, which has forced the often non-cooperative industry leaders to come together and examine use of medication, whip use and safety issues. In an equally baffling statistic, Santa Anita has not had one racing or training fatality since March 31, a period that includes almost 5,000 timed workouts and nearly 1,000 race starts.
Still, no one has anything but theories as to why so many horses broke down.
Reviews of Saturday’s race showed how razor-close the sport came to a total meltdown if there had been a catastrophic accident in the Kentucky Derby. The stewards ruled that Maximum Security came off the inside and almost caused War of Will to go down should they have made contact. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione was able to keep the horse from going to the ground and causing a chain reaction that would likely have been fatal to more than one horse and possibly jockeys.
“The horse racing world should be happy War of Will is such an athlete because not every horse doesn’t go down there,” Mark Casse, War of Will’s trainer, said Sunday morning. “[Maximum Security] put [horses] lives in danger, he put jockeys’ lives in danger.”
Though the stewards haven’t ruled on the ride of Luis Saez aboard Maximum Security, every indication is it was all the actions of the lightly raced (four previous races) 3-year-old horse and the jockey was blameless.
Gary West, the owner of Maximum Security, filed an appeal on Monday with the Kentucky racing board but it was immediately rejected because disqualifications aren’t subject to appeal. West may seek redress through civil litigation. Whatever happens, it would have no effect on bettors.
The loss of Country House from the Preakness, in addition to Maximum Security, makes the race either very competitive or an afterthought. Or both.
The last Kentucky Derby winner to not run in the Preakness was Grindstone in 1996. He didn’t run because of bone chips in his right knee.
War of Will is expected to start in the 1 3/16-mile race, the shortest of the Triple Crown races. Also declared is Improbable, a Bob Baffert-trained colt that finished an adjusted (after the disqualification) fourth place at Churchill Downs. Mike Smith has been named to ride Improbable, replacing Irad Ortiz Jr.
One of the more interesting entrants is Anothertwistafaith, who is regularly stabled at Golden Gate Fields. He got an automatic berth in the Preakness by winning the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate, which like Pimlico is owned by the Stronach Group.
And then there is local Maryland horse Alwaysmining, who has won six races in a row, all at Laurel Park.
It is possible that Maximum Security and Country House could meet in the Belmont Stakes, three weeks after the Preakness. Many of the Kentucky Derby horses are pointed to that 1 ½ mile race rather than coming back on only two weeks’ rest.
If Country House had run in the Preakness, it would have been his fourth race in eight weeks.
But for now, a lot of trainers and owners see an opportunity to pick up a Triple Crown race win in the Preakness, which can be very valuable when deciding breeding fees.