LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky Derby or a maiden claiming: a disqualifying circumstance is a disqualifying circumstance, regardless of a race’s magnitude.
That was trainer Bill Mott’s message to NBC Sports during an inquiry that lasted about 20 minutes following the completion of the 145th Kentucky Derby on Saturday. One of his horses, Country House, was the second to cross the finish line.
“There’s over 100,000 people here and I know they wish they didn’t have to make that call,” Mott said during the TV broadcast. “ . . . But it’s their duty to do the right thing, and I hope they do.”
Barbara Borden, Kentucky’s chief steward, saw things Mott’s way. It was determined that Maximum Security — the race winner — interfered with the path of War of Will and Long Range Toddy, and he was disqualified, becoming the first Derby winner with that distinction. The inquiry was prompted by a challenge lodged by Flavien Prat, who was aboard Country House.
“It was an odd way to do it and we hate to back into anything,” Mott said on the broadcast. “It’s a bittersweet victory, but I gotta say our horse ran very well. Our jockey rode very well, and I’m thrilled to death for all the connections. I think they’re very deserving, we’ll just have to prove ourselves in the future.”
Mott in eight prior Derby starts did not have a horse finish in the top three. Tacitus, Mott’s other starter in the race and among a cluster of betting favorites following Maximum Security, showed as a result of the steward’s decision.
His most famous Thoroughbred, Cigar, did not race in the Kentucky Derby but won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural Dubai World Cup in 1996 as part of 16-race win streak to match a record set by Citation in 1950.
“That was a pretty special time, and the run with Cigar lasted almost two and a half years, so there was a lot of pressure,” Mott said. “We came over today and we were bound to enjoy the day and have a good time . . . I don’t know that our expectations were that we were gonna wind up in the winner’s circle but I think, naturally, everybody was hopeful. I think it was a real thrill to find out that decision we collectively made to run this horse in the Kentucky Derby worked out.”
Mott said he spoke with Jason Servis, the trainer of Maximum Security, following the decision and “didn’t get a hint” from him that there would be any legal action forthcoming.
“I think he’s been around it long enough and I’m sure he watched the film well enough,” Mott said. “I think the people that own the horse that crossed the finish line first, they’re experienced in the business and they can see what happened . . . I know how I would feel if I was in his shoes.”
The significance of the outcome was not lost on Mott.
“It’ll give somebody a lot to talk about for a long time,” Mott said with a laugh. “They’ll be speaking about the result of this race from now until they run the next Kentucky Derby, the next 10 Kentucky Derbys, the next 20 Kentucky Derbys. I wouldn’t be surprised if this race shows up on TV over and over and over a year from now. But there’s always a lot of controversy in this sport and we’re probably gonna be involved in it from now on, but I’m gonna take it and am just pleased for the owners and breeders of this horse that have put so much into the game.”