In a Kentucky Derby that will be talked about long after the name of the winner has been forgotten, Maximum Security became the first horse disqualified for interference in the 145-year history of the event, and Country House, a 65-to-1 longshot, is the second winner to not cross the finish line first.
It was an excruciating 22 minutes after the race when stewards, who watched and re-watched video, rendered their decision. They determined that Maximum Security came off the inside of the track and impeded the running of War Of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress.
Maximum Security, according to the rules of horse racing, was placed 17th, behind Long Range Toddy. Bodexpress was 13th, and War Of Will was placed seventh.
Country House got the blanket of roses.
The incident happened deep in the far turn before the homestretch.
Country House, ridden by Flavien Prat, was on the outside of his competitors and was the least affected by the incident.
Prat, who is a regular rider at Santa Anita, said, “That horse drifted out, kind of turned me sideways, and there were two horses inside of us.”
The stewards did not mention that Country House was affected.
Prat and Jon Court, who was riding Long Range Toddy, filed objections with the stewards.
“We had a lengthy review of the race,” said Barbara Borden, chief steward of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. “We interviewed affected riders. We determined that the seven horse [Maximum Security] drifted out and impacted the progress of No. 1 [War Of Will], in turn interfering with the 18 [Long Range Toddy] and 21 [Bodexpress]. Those horses were all impacted by the interference. Therefore, we unanimously determined to disqualify No. 7 and place him behind the 18.”
It was the first Kentucky Derby win for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who previously was best known as the trainer of Cigar, who won 16 consecutive races in 1996.
“It will give somebody something to talk about for a long time,” Mott said. “They’ll be speaking about the result of this race from now until they run the next Kentucky Derby, the next 10 Kentucky Derbies and 20 Kentucky Derbies.
“There is always a lot of controversy in this sport, and we are probably going to be involved with it for a long time.”
The only other time a Derby winner was denied a victory came in 1968 when Dancer’s Image later tested positive for a banned medication and Kentucky racing officials redistributed the purse, making Forward Pass the winner. The stewards’ decision in that case was upheld in court.
Maximum Security is owned by Gary and Mary West, who live in Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego. Gary West said he plans to take a couple of days to review his options and decide whether to file an appeal.
“I think this is the most egregious disqualification in the history of horse racing, and not just because it's our horse,” Gary West told The Associated Press.
Jason Servis, the trainer of Maximum Security, was hoping to join his brother John as a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer. John Servis won with Smarty Jones in 2004.
“I don’t think it changed the outcome of the race,” Jason Servis said. “It looks like something scared him in the infield. … I feel bad for the Wests. … It’s tough. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it will.”
Most in the crowd of 150,729 were shocked. It resulted in about a $116 difference in the win payoff and tens of thousands of bettors who went from winners to losers, not just those at Churchill Downs but also those who wagered remotely. More than $65.6 million was bet on win, place and show in the race.
One online gambling site, SportsBetting.ag, returned all bets made on Maximum Security that came before race day, totaling in the “mid six figures,” according to its website.
Country House was the second-longest priced horse to win the Derby. He paid $132.40 to win, $56.60 to place and $24.60 to show on a $2 mutuel wager. Donerail paid $184.90 in 1913.
Country House finished 1 3/4 lengths behind Maximum Security. After the disqualification, Code Of Honor was placed second, followed by Tacitus, Improbable and Game Winner.
“You know, as far as the win goes, it’s bittersweet,” Mott said. “I would be lying if I said it was any different. You always want to win with a clean trip and have everybody recognize the horse as a very good horse and for the great athlete that he is. I think, due to the disqualification, probably some of that is diminished. But this is horse racing.”
Maximum Security broke alertly from the gate and immediately went for the lead, which he held to the finish. It was an impressive performance in that the first part of the race was extremely fast for 1 1/4 miles. The Derby is traditionally the first time that 3-year-olds run that far.
He ran the first quarter-mile in 23.31 seconds and the half-mile in 46.35 seconds. Normally, horses that run opening fractions that fast tend to fade to the back as the race continues. But not Maximum Security. It seemed as if jockey Luis Saez was trying to slow the race down on the far turn to conserve energy for the finish. It could have contributed to the interference, especially because it appeared that War Of Will was speeding up.
“I thought I never put anyone in danger,” Saez said. “My horse shied away from the noise of the crowd and may have ducked out a little.”
The race was run on a track that was labeled as sloppy, with water standing on the surface that had not penetrated the hardened base of dirt.
The next race in the Triple Crown series is the Preakness Stakes in two weeks at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. It’s unclear whether there will be a rematch between Country House and Maximum Security. Country House will definitely be there if he comes out of the race healthy.