LOUISVILLE — The Kentucky Derby on Saturday freakishly joined the Miss Universe pageant and the Academy Awards among recent-years competitions with apparent results dramatically overturned. In a sequence unprecedented in the 145-year history of the race, the horse who crossed the wire in a commanding first place met with disqualification from stewards 22 minutes after his jockey pumped his arm in exhilaration.
Just after Maximum Security seemed to add a dizzying chapter to an implausible surge of a colt available for claiming last December for a wee $16,000, the 65-1 shot Country House became the winner, with 14-1 shot Code of Honor bumped from third to second and 6-1 shot Tacitus lifted from fourth to third. Through such jarring moments did Country House become the second-longest shot ever to win, behind only the 91-1 Donerail in 1913, while lavishing Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott with his first Kentucky Derby win in 10 entries stretched across 35 years of prevailing patience.
“It’s something that it’ll give somebody a lot to talk about for a long time,” Mott said.
In the fifth race of Maximum Security’s unbeaten life, after the first four at Gulfstream Park near Miami, the Florida Derby champion grabbed a hasty lead in a race deemed wide open and appeared to beat back 18 rivals wire-to-wire. He appeared to win by 1 3/4 lengths in 2:03.93. He appeared to give the Servis family a remarkable distinction, with trainer Jason Servis winning a Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track 15 years after his brother, John, won the Kentucky Derby with Smarty Jones on a sloppy track. As the second choice among wagerers at 9-2 behind Improbable at 4-1, Maximum Security appeared to snap the six-year run of favorites hogging the roses.
Then came an objection, sought by two jockeys — including Flavien Prat, the 26-year-old Country House jockey from Melun, France, who’s based in Southern California and was riding in his third Kentucky Derby.
“I did ask,” Prat said.
The stewards began reviewing video for the first such claim since 2001, when Monarchos’s win over Invisible Ink stood. Horsemen such as Mott, Prat, Servis and Maximum Security jockey Luis Saez, the 26-year-old from Panama in his seventh straight Derby, stood and waited awkwardly among the 150,729 in various stages of disbelief (and other conditions). The review concerned banging near the turn toward the top of the stretch, where Maximum Security barged to his right and impeded the paths of both War of Will and Long Range Toddy — which in turn, Prat said, foiled Country House.
While they waited, Mott told NBC, “There was definitely a foul in the race,” and, “I would say this: If it were a maiden claimer on a weekday, the winner would come down.” Commenting for NBC, Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Jerry Bailey suggested that while there had been wrongdoing, the stewards might overlook it because the race had gone to the best.
Said Prat, “It’s not only me, but the horses between Maximum Security and Country House that have been affected.” Said Mott: “It may have affected us slightly, but I would say it affected the other two horses dramatically. . . . They lost all chance, and those two horses lost their opportunity to win or place.” Prat and Mott said the horse, not the jockey, had wreaked the ruckus, while Saez said, “My horse shied away from the noise of the crowd and may have ducked out a little.” Said Servis: “I don’t think it changed the outcome of the race. It looks like something scared him in the infield, but I haven’t been able to watch it that close.”
The stewards — Barbara Borden, Brooks A. Becraft and Tyler Picklesimer — ruled unanimously, Borden said in a statement. “The riders of the 18 [Long Range Toddy] and 20 [Country House] horses in the Kentucky Derby,” she said, “lodged objections against the 7 horse [Maximum Security], the winner, due to interference turning for home, leaving the quarter pole.”
They did what no officials had done in all the Kentucky Derbies since 1875: They took down the winner because of an infraction — different from the controversy of 1968, when Dancer’s Image appeared to win the Derby only to have it overturned after a post-race drug test, with Forward Pass declared the winner. While officials demoted Dancer’s Image to last place 51 years ago, the stewards left Maximum Security 17th out of 19, to place him behind those he affected: Country House in first, War of Will in seventh and Long Range Toddy in 16th.
“You know, far as the win goes, it’s actually very — it’s bittersweet,” Mott said. “I’d be lying if I said any different. You always want to win with a clean trip and have everybody recognize the horse as the 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.”
Long regarded as an elite horseman of uncommon patience and as the trainer of the 1990s two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, the South Dakota native wound up winning his first Kentucky Derby with the second choice in his stable. He had won while Tacitus, his Wood Memorial winner, had not. He had won while trainer Bob Baffert’s three promising entries had not — with Improbable in fourth, Game Winner in fifth and Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster in 15th, foiling Baffert’s worthy bid for a sixth title that would have tied Ben A. Jones atop the all-time list. Mott had won with a Kentucky-bred son of Lookin At Lucky, the 2010 Preakness champion, and whose progeny paid a fat $132.40.
He had won with a horse who had finished second in the Risen Star at the Louisiana Fair Grounds in February, fourth in the Louisiana Derby in March and third in the Arkansas Derby in April. “When he was a 2-year-old,” Mott said, “he was one of those who didn’t show us a lot,” but then, “I’ve been telling people all winter, if this horse ever wakes up and figures out what he’s doing, the mile and a quarter is certainly within his reach.”
While he marveled at that, and while one of the group of owners, Maury Shields, the widow of Joseph V. Shields, who died in October, said, “It’ll take a while for it to set in,” Mott spoke of the three stewards who had made the day unforgettable.
“I’m glad I wasn’t in their shoes,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to make a decision in front of a hundred thousand people and millions of people watching around the world.”
Then: “With that being said, I’m damned glad they put our number up.”
This is a breaking news story and has been updated.
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