Hold your horses, Country House takes home trophy
The Santa Clara
May 9, 2019
The Kentucky Derby is often called “the fastest two minutes in sports.” It’s quick, exhilarating and over faster than you have time to ask, “was that phrase the announcer kept repeating the horse’s name?”
To the casual observer, this year’s race looked to be nothing new. As the horses sped around the final turn of the muddy, rain-soaked track at Churchill Downs, only one jockey still had a clean uniform. Of course, it was Luis Saez, the rider for Maximum Security.
Maximum Security had been in the lead since the starting gates opened and with only the final stretch to go, he outran the rest of the pack, flashing past the finish line in first place. Country House finished second and Code of Honor rounded out the podium in third.
Maximum Security’s trainer, Jason Servis, and his owner, Gary West, jumped up in celebration. For both of them, this would be their first Kentucky Derby win— and one that West had been chasing for 40 years. For Servis, he was going to join his brother John in the record books as the only brothers to train Derby champions.
However, their moment of victory was short-lived. The highest of highs for Maximum Security’s team became the lowest of lows after an objection was raised on the track.
The objection was filed by Jon Court, the rider for Long Range Toddy, and Flavien Prat, the jockey for Country House. They argued Maximum Security interfered with the progress of other horses on the final turn of the race.Three racing stewards—the proper name for horse-racing officials—immediately reviewed replays to determine whether Maximum Security had veered into the path of War of Will and other horses.
Meanwhile, the crowd sat and waited. Nearly 25 minutes later, the stewards announced their verdict: Maximum Security had been disqualified. While jumping a puddle on the track, Maximum Security drifted to the outside, impeding the lane of War of Will and forcing its rider, Tyler Gaf – falione, to squeeze his knees and yank the reins to keep from falling off.
For the first time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby, the winning horse was disqualified and taken down from the leaderboard. Country House, the original second place finisher, was therefore promoted to first place, marking the second-largest upset in Derby history.
Country House entered the race with 65-1 odds to win. The only horse to win with longer odds was Donerail 106 years ago at 91-1. This means that anybody who placed a longshot bet on Country House to win the Derby walked away from the weekend a whole lot richer.
Exactly how much richer? Placing a $2 bet paid out $132.40. Not bad.
The decision marked one of the biggest controversies in horse-racing history. Of course, any time the horse that crossed the finish line first doesn’t win, there is going to be controversy. Not to mention if it’s the first time it has ever happened at such an important race.
“My heart actually aches for them, but that’s the way it is,” Bill Mott, Country House’s trainer, said. “I’ve been on the other end of it plenty of times, but just not in the Kentucky Derby.”
On the other hand, Mark Casse, the trainer for War of Will, took a completely different perspective on the race. He was just relieved that his horse emerged from the race healthy, despite being the one cut off by Maximum Security.
“As much as I want to win the Kentucky Derby, I feel like a lucky man today because I just got him out and jogged him, and he’s perfect,” Casse said. “The horse racing world should be happy War of Will is such an athlete, because not every horse doesn’t go down there.”
Luckily, War of Will is okay. However, the disqualification will loom heavily over West for a long time. His effort to appeal the disqualification was denied on Monday.
Saturday’s Kentucky Derby was a look into the emotional roller coaster than is the sports world. One second you’re on top and the next you’re crashing down.
But that’s sports. It’s what makes it beautiful and heartbreaking—sometimes both at the same time as we saw this weekend.
The Kentucky Derby may be the fastest two minutes in sports, but on Saturday we learned it can all be taken away even faster.
Contact Kyle Lydon at klydon@scu. edu or call (408) 554-4852.