LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Twenty-two minutes after Maximum Security crossed the wire first, nobody was sure if he had won. A minute later, for the first time in the Kentucky Derby’s 145-year history, the winner was disqualified. for an infraction during the running of the race.
And not to second, but all the way down to 17th, as 65-1 shot Country House was elevated to first.
After leading throughout to the top of the stretch for jockey Luis Saez, Maximum Security ducked out two or three paths, impeding War of Will and Long Range Toddy. Country House, on Maximum Security’s outside, was bothered slightly. The leader re-engaged and drew off by 1¾ lengths over Country House, whose rider, Flavian Prat, lodged the objection.
It appeared Maximum Security had won the Derby, but it was “hold all tickets.” For Saez and trainer Jason Servis, the stress seemed to last forever. As Servis waited, he said, “This is really tough. Pray to the racing gods.” He thought he’d equaled the feat of his brother John Servis, who trained 2004 Derby winner Smarty Jones.
There was loud booing from the crowd of 150,729 when the stunning and historic decision was announced.
During the stewards’ review, Hall of Famer Bill Mott, trainer of Country House, said, “I think a couple of horses really were bothered and lost their chance to win. He came out two or three paths and bothered two horses. He affected us slightly and the other two horses dramatically.
“If this was a maiden claiming race on a weekday, the horse would come down. I’m sure the stewards don’t want to make that decision.”
Later, he added, “I sure wouldn’t have wanted to make that decision in front of a hundred and fifty thousand people.”
Remarkably, the stewards did. The letter of the law prevailed over the spirit of the rules. It was similar to a touch foul being called in the final seconds of a basketball game. Yes, technically, it was a foul, but the call is almost never made.
Hall of Fame rider Jerry Bailey, a two-time Derby champion and an NBC analyst, disagreed with the stewards, saying, “The best horse [Maximum Security] won the race.”
The last time there was an objection in the Derby was in 2001, when John Velazquez, riding Invisible Ink, claimed foul against Monarchos. It was quickly dismissed.
In 1968, Dancers's Image was disqualified from first after Butazolidin was found days later in a postrace urine test.
War of Will ran eighth and Long Range Toddy finished 17th. Each was moved up one spot, and Maximum Security, the 9-2 secon betthing choice, was placed 17th. Code of Honor was elevated to second.
Jon Court, at 58 the oldest rider in Derby history, surprisingly was in contention with Long Range Toddy at the head of the stretch before being bothered by Maximum Security.
Mott was 0-for-8 in the Derby, and finally won it with a horse to whom few respected. Tacitus, who came in fourth but was placed third, was his big hope, and Country House, at 1-for-6 lifetime, was given virtually no chance.
Saez said the deafening roar of the crowd upset Maximum Security as he turned into the stretch. “He got scared when he started hearing the screaming,” Saez said. “He’s really a runner, but he’s just a baby. I never put nobody in danger.”
The stewards, racing’s umpires, disagreed.
Maximum Security was 4-for-4 entering the race and still hasn’t finished behind another horse. It was what he did in front of a couple others that got him beat on a sloppy track at chilly Churchill Downs.
Another big loser was trainer Bob Baffert. He was seeking his record-tying sixth Derby victory but did no better than fourth with Improbable. A year ago, he swept his second Triple Crown with Justify.
Completing the order of finish were Baffert’s Game Winner, Master Fencer, War of Will, Plus Que Parfait, Win Win Win, Cutting Humor, By My Standards, Vekoma, Bodexpress, Tax, Baffert’s Roadster, Long Range Toddy, Maximum Security, Spinoff and Gray Magician.
Country House is a son of Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky, whom Baffert trained. He was stuck out in post 20 and had lost three in a row by a combined 15½ lengths. He paid $132.40 to win, second only to Donerail ($184, 1913) in Derby history. Maximum Security went 1¼ miles in 2:03.93 after he set quick fractions of 22.31 seconds, :46.62, 1:12.50 and 1:38.63.
“I’m proud of my horses, they ran second and fourth,” Mott said. “This was a weird way to win it. You never want to back into anything. It was a bittersweet victory, and I’d be lying if I said any different.”