It used to be that the horse who won the Kentucky Derby actually won the Kentucky Derby.
For the 144 years preceding Saturday’s race, the greatest two minutes in sports had proceeded with exactly that gentility and charm, save for the occasional thunder storm and sloppy track.
The 145th race changed all that, bringing the sport into the modern time when contentiousness and instant replay ultimately rule the day.
And on Monday, the owners of Maximum Security, whose Derby title was taken away, said they will file an appeal with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
“I thought I never put anybody in danger,” said Maximum Security’s jockey, Luis Saez. “My horse shied away from the noise of the crowd and may have ducked out a little.”
The horse’s owner, Gary West, told the “Today” show that he believes Maximum Security should be declared the winner.
“We are going to file an appeal today with the state racing commission,” West said. “Right after the race, I had the trainer call the stewards and very nicely ask them if they would be willing to visit with us after the races were over. I said, ‘We’ll stay here until 11, 12 o’clock at night, whatever you want,’ and they said, ‘Absolutely not, we won’t be showing the films until Thursday.’ We didn’t really have any alternative legally … the appeal has to be filed within 48 hours.”
You recall that Maximum Security was disqualified by the stewards after a 22-minute deliberation and placed 18th after the first disqualification based on how the race was ridden in the event’s history. The second-place horse, Country House, a 65-1 favorite, was declared the winner.
After the complaints about Maximum Security were filed, the stewards ruled that he had interfered with other competitors, primarily War of Will, when he shifted right on the final turn and hit him with his hind legs. When War of Will was bumped, he disrupted the other horses.
West admitted his horse veered somewhat, but attributed any contact to the congestion resulting from a 19-horse field.
“It was literally like the old TV show, ‘the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,’ all within a 22-minute period of time,” West said. “Winning it was the most euphoric thing I have probably ever had in our lives and disappointment when they took the horse down for the first time in history, we were stunned, shocked and in total disbelief. It had never been done before.”
The problem for West, and it’s a really big problem, is the governing body does allow appeals, claiming it’s the stewards job to make the final call.
“I think this is something that’s big enough that the entire racing world is looking at this, and I think they deserve an opportunity to really know what was going on,” West said. “I was a bit shocked and surprised that the stewards wrote a statement that was probably prepared by their lawyers and refused, literally refused, to take questions from the media. So they’ve been about as nontransparent about this whole thing as anything I’ve ever seen in my life.
“You shouldn’t have 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs, because they’re a greedy organization, has [20 horses] rather than 14 like you have in the Kentucky Oaks, the Breeders’ Cup, every other race in America. Just because they can make more money, they’re willing to risk horses’ lives and people’s lives to do that. I’m not a fan of that. I think you should have 14 like every other race …”
The jockeys of Country House and 17th-place finisher Long Range Toddy filed the objections. There had been only five foul claims in Derby history, none since 2001. A conflict between objection fourth- and fifth-place horses in 1984 was upheld.
Not since 1968 had the winner of the Derby been disqualified and when Dancer’s Image was dethroned it because a banned drug was discovered in his system.
The decision had a wide-ranging impact on the race and the sport. Consider that more than $6.2 million was bet on Maximum Security to win. Not only that, his owners would have collected the $3 million purse and benefitted because a Kentucky winner immediately becomes a high-priority sire.
Country House’s trainer Bill Mott told ESPN why the complaints against Maximum Security had to be considered.
“There were two horses in the race that lost all chance to win a Kentucky Derby, and they were in a position at the time to hit the board. And people bet on these races,” Mott said. “There’s millions of dollars that are bet. And there are some people that bet on the two horses that got bothered, and they had no chance to get a placing. …
“I know the stewards had a very, very difficult decision. I mean, I’m glad I wasn’t in their shoes. I’m glad I didn’t have to make the decision in front of over 100,000 people and the millions of people that are watching this on TV and around the world.”
Country House paid $132.40 to win – the second-highest payout in Derby history.
“Looking at the tote board there’s probably a lot of people that didn’t think we could win,” Mott said, “but that’s horse racing. … I know the stewards had a very, very difficult decision,” Mott said. “I’m damn glad they put our number up.”