LOUISVILLE, Ky. — This has not been horse racing’s most interesting hour: useless horses at Santa Anita Park and consternation amongst horse folks that they will deal with their athletes higher however have failed to take action. It’s little surprise then that the 145th working of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday resulted in astonishment, controversy and confusion.
The Kentucky Derby, very like the Super Bowl, has change into a spot to see and be seen. Celebrities and rich persons are in all places, making the weekend a celebration with a race as the principle distraction. On Saturday, Maximum Security gained America’s most well-known race on the observe. Until he didn’t. For the primary time within the historical past of the race, the horse who crossed the end line first was disqualified for interference and stripped of his title, earlier than a shocked crowd of greater than 150,000.
By all appearances, Maximum Security had outrun the sector, remaining unbeaten and giving a hard-knocking coach from the Mid-Atlantic, Jason Servis, and his up-and-coming jockey, Luis Saez, their first Derby victories.
But there was an issue — a giant one. Maximum Security had jumped a puddle on the rain-soaked observe and slid to the surface, not solely impeding the progress of a rival, War of Will, but in addition forcing that colt’s rider, Tyler Gaffalione, to squeeze his knees and wrangle the reins simply to remain aboard.
So the racing stewards went to look at the video for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then practically 22.
“Leave it to the racing gods,” an more and more anguished Servis mentioned as he awaited the stewards’ determination.
Not distant, Bill Mott, a Hall of Fame coach, appeared on placidly. His colt, Country House, had completed second. Mott was trackside and mentioned on nationwide tv what horseplayers know, dread and curse regularly.
“There was definitely a foul in the race,” Mott mentioned. “If this was a maiden claimer on a weekday the winner would come down.”
Down got here Maximum Security and up went Country House, a 65-1 unbelievable victor. It was not a preferred determination, nevertheless it was a courageous one that’s sure to maintain a battered previous sport within the nationwide consciousness for a bit bit longer. Never earlier than had a foul voided an obvious win on the Derby. One different horse has been stripped of victory: In 1968 a failed drug take a look at led to the disqualification of Dancer’s Image days after the race, when Forward Pass was named the winner.
This was the primary Derby triumph for Mott, a horseman revered amongst his friends for being “half-horse,” because it was for Flavien Prat, a Frenchman who’s now primarily based in California. He has discovered his classes effectively right here as a result of it was his objection that set off the video scrutiny and in the end modified (and made) historical past.
After Maximum Security completed one and three-quarter lengths in entrance of Country House, it appeared the racing officers had both not seen the purported foul or didn’t assume Maximum Security had saved a greater horse from profitable.
But Prat protested — it’s referred to as an objection in racetrack parlance — that means that the officers needed to hear from him what occurred and evaluation the video. It was a artful request, particularly after Prat acknowledged that it was uncertain he and Country House have been ever going to catch Maximum Security.
“It kind of turned me sideways,” he mentioned. “It was at the quarter pole and affected my momentum.”
Mott, nonetheless, was extra diplomatic about his rider’s criticism.
“It may have affected it slightly, but it affected two other horses dramatically,” he mentioned.
Barbara Borden, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, wouldn’t take questions in regards to the stewards’ determination, however mentioned that they’d decided that Maximum Security had “drifted out” and impeded Country House as effectively.
The stakes have been already excessive on Saturday for a declining sport that has rapidly change into an endangered one. Twenty-three horse deaths over a three-month span at Santa Anita Park in Southern California shut down racing there and produced calls to ban the game.
Here at Churchill Downs, 43 thoroughbreds have been misplaced to racing accidents since 2016, a median of two.42 per 1,000 begins, which was 50 % increased than the nationwide common throughout the identical time.
So it was with racing hearts and fraught nerves that the gang of 150,729 despatched off the sector of 19 horses on a wet day that left the racetrack as sticky as peanut butter and the horses and riders decided to search out secure and strategic footing.
It appeared like Saez had guided Maximum Security to a profitable path. He had the one undefeated horse within the subject, they usually bounded out of the gate and led the best way into the primary flip. The plan was to rocket Maximum Security to the lead and make the others catch him. If they may.
He was in entrance by a quick half-mile of 46.62 seconds. Behind him, Prat and Country House have been splashing alongside unhurried in eighth place. As Maximum Security turned for residence, he disregarded a puddle, banging War of Will and setting off a sequence response that broke the stride of Code of Honor and a few others.
“My horse shied away from the noise of the crowd and may have ducked out a little,” Saez mentioned.
Mott believed him.
“I don’t think Luis Saez did anything intentionally. He is an inexperienced horse,” mentioned Mott, who considers Saez a good friend.
The coach additionally is aware of Servis effectively.
“My heart actually aches for them, but that’s the way it is,” he mentioned. “I’ve been on the other end of it plenty of times, but just not in the Kentucky Derby.”
As for Servis, he went from celebrating the largest victory in his profession to one thing near despair. His youthful brother John gained this race with Smarty Jones in 2004 and now he was about to affix him within the document books as the one brothers to coach Derby champions.
“I’m just trying to hold it together,” he mentioned on tv after he thought he had gained.
But the three stewards and, sure, the racing gods, determined he, Saez and a recreation Maximum Security belonged within the document books.
“It’s tough,” Servis mentioned. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it will.”
Bettors name what Servis and Saez — and sometimes themselves — endure a tricky beat. This could also be one of many hardest of all, one which essentially the most informal horse fan shall be speaking about for years to come back.
Alas, it was another person’s day.
The document ebook will say that Country House gained the mile-and-a-quarter race and picked up a $1.86 million examine for his homeowners and paid a whopping $132.40 for a $2 guess.
“It’s bittersweet,” Mott mentioned. Then he paused, and a smile crept into the corners of his mouth. “You always want to win with a clean trip and have the horse recognized as the great athlete that he is. So yeah, it diminishes it. I know they had a very tough decision. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. With all that said, I’m damn glad they put up our number.”