It was certainly expected that California racing would have an impact on the Kentucky Derby. It’s just nobody figured jockey Flavien Prat would be one of the central figures Saturday.
Prat was one of two jockeys who objected to Maximum Security’s run along the far turn leading to the first-ever disqualification in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby. Prat was riding runner-up Country House, a 65-to-1 shot who was placed first after Maximum Security was taken down.
Prat said the actions of Maximum Security affected his horse even though the stewards didn’t mention it and it was difficult to see on replays.
“We never made contact [with Maximum Security] because there were horses between us,” Prat said. “The horse on my inside hit the hip on my horse, so it kind of turned me sideways. And it’s at the quarter-pole, where actually I was making a run and I kind of lost momentum.”
Clearly, Country House was the least affected of the horses.
“It may have affected it slightly, but I am going to say that it affected the two other horses dramatically,” said Country House trainer Bill Mott, who won his first Kentucky Derby. “If what happened to us was the only thing they we’re looking at, I don’t think you would have seen a disqualification.
“But it was mainly the other two horses that got bothered the worst and they lost all chance. And those two horses lost their opportunity to win or place in the Kentucky Derby.”
Whatever the degree of interference, it did nothing to deter the spirit of a very happy Prat. Earlier in the year, he was the regular rider of Omaha Beach, but he was taken off the mount. Mike Smith ended up with the colt, who was the morning-line favorite until scratching Wednesday because of a minor throat condition.
“It felt pretty good actually,” Prat said after the race. “It’s a great moment. It’s a dream come true. Coming from Europe, Breeders’ Cup was a bigger deal for me. But as soon as I was here the first time, I was in the grandstands and I watched this race, and it’s amazing.
“I mean, there is no race like the Kentucky Derby. And I was hoping to one day ride in the Derby, and to win it. And it’s done today. I’m really happy and blessed.”
If one were to guess which Santa Anita regular would be in the headlines, it probably would have been trainer Bob Baffert, who brought three horses to the Derby. There was Improbable, who was the favorite at 4-1 but finished fourth. Game Winner, who finished fifth, was a half-length behind his stablemate. And there was Roadster, who finished a disappointing 15th.
“I told [the jockeys] that [Maximum Security] was the horse to beat,” Baffert said.
Maximum Security’s first race was in a $16,000 maiden claimer, meaning he was up for sale.
“I told him be thankful you didn’t lose him for $16,000 or else you’d be throwing up all over your horse right now,” Baffert said descriptively.
“The field never got separated, they were all right there. It was like a kid’s soccer game. I knew the first quarter of a mile, I was toast. The problem is [Improbable] couldn’t get out. The six [Vekoma] wouldn’t let him out. I told my riders to stay clean. They don’t listen to me.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., Improbable’s rider, saw it differently.
“My horse didn’t really like the track,” Ortiz said. “I asked him to keep up and just could not.”
Joel Rosario, who was the leading rider at Santa Anita this winter before going to Kentucky, was aboard Game Winner.
“I thought he was going to be sharper at the gate,” Rosario said. “He broke OK but he stayed there for a little bit. I tried to push him a little early. I thought it was going to be OK because they were going fast at the beginning, but he struggled the last three furlongs. He also had a little trouble with the track.”
Peter Miller, who now trains at both Santa Anita and Kentucky, saddled Gray Magician, who finished 19th and last in the race.
Drayden Van Dyke, who also makes his home at Santa Anita, was the rider.
“I had a beautiful trip, no trouble whatsoever,” Van Dyke said. “He seemed to handle the track well, but I just ran out of horse. We’ll come back and fight another day.”
Jockey Mike Smith, who was originally scheduled to ride Omaha Beach but ended up on Cutting Humor, finished 10th.
Last year Instagrand was the “it” horse when winning his first two races by more than a combined 20 lengths. But owner Larry Best took him off the track before the Del Mar Futurity to rest up for his 3-year-old campaign. Except it didn’t go so well, with third-place finishes in the Gotham Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.