LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky Derby lasts about two minutes but the discussion of what happened on May 4, 2019 could continue for months even years.
The trainer, New Jersey resident, Jason Servis and jockey Luis Saez celebrated when Maximum Security crossed the finish line first at Churchill Downs.
The celebration was short lived when it was announced an objection had been filed. Then after nearly 22 minutes of waiting for officials to review the race replay from every angle, Maximum Security was disqualified and second place finisher 65-1 long-shot, Country House was declared the winner.
Country House, a son of Lookin At Lucky out of the War Chant mare Quake Lake paid $132.40 to win, the second highest-price winner in Derby history.
The unconventional victory was the first in the Run for the Roses for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who is based in New York.
Maximum Security led from start to finish, but veered out near the 5/16th pole and into the path of War of Will, which caused a chain reaction between him, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress. Jockey Flavien Prat, who was aboard Country House, filed the objection even though his colt appeared the least affected. Long Range Toddy’s rider, John Cort also filed an objection.
Saez quickly straightened his colt out but the damage had been done.
"As far as the win goes, it's bittersweet," Mott said. "I would be lying if I said it was any different. You always want to win with a clean trip and have everybody recognize the horse for the great athlete that he is. I think, due to the disqualification, probably some of that is diminished. But this is horse racing.
"There were two horses in the race that lost all chance to win a Kentucky Derby, and they were in a position at the time to hit the board. I know the stewards had a very, very difficult decision. I'm glad I wasn't in their shoes. I'm glad I didn't have to make the decision in front of over a hundred thousand people and the millions of people that are watching on TV around the world ... but with that being said, I'm damn glad they put our number up."
Mott's other entry, Tacitus, the Wood Memorial winner, rallied in the slop to finish fourth, and was place third.
Kentucky's interference rule reads: "A leading horse, if clear, is entitled to any part of the track. If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul. If a jockey strikes another horse or jockey, it is a foul. If in the opinion of the stewards a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards."
Barbara Borden, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission explained, "The riders of the 18 and 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby lodged objections against the seven horse, the winner, alleging interference turning for home leaving the quarter pole. We had a lengthy review of the race, interviewed affected riders and determined that the seven horse drifted out and impacted the number 1, who in turn interfered with the 18 and 21. Those horses were all affected. Therefore we unanimously determined to disqualify number seven and place him behind 18. That is our typical procedure."
Gary West and Servis later said they were considering options which include appealing the decision.
The only other time a Derby winner was disqualified was after the horses tested positive for a prohibited substance. The ruling was later upheld.
Harness racing experienced a similar controversy.
The finish of the Aug. 5, 2017 $1 million Hambletonian, was the subject of two judge’s inquiries, and resulted in the winner of the richest race for sophomore trotters being disqualified and placed out of the money for the first time in Hambletonian history. The appeal of that judge’s decision was only finalized I March this year, and purse monies from the event held 18 months earlier were recently ordered disbursed by the NJ Racing Commission.
What The Hill, driven by Dave Miller and trained by Ron Burke, was fourth in his Hambletonian elimination heat, but came roaring back in the final heat of the Hambletonian to win in 1:52.3. The inquiry light was flashed and after reviewing the race for two incidents — International Moni’s break in the first turn and Guardian Angel AS going off stride in the stretch — both were deemed interference breaks, and What The Hill was placed ninth behind Guardian Angel AS, who galloped when the wheel of What The Hill’s sulky struck his hoof.
Second-place finisher Perfect Spirit, driven and trained by Ake Svanstedt, was placed first, his owners SRF Stable entered the winner circle and accepted the Hambletonian trophy, and they will now receive the disputed part of the purse totaling $275,000 as well.
The judge’s ruling, which also suspended David Miller for three days for careless driving, was appealed and eventually heard by the Office of Administrative Law as a contested case.
In a ruling dated March 26, 2019, the NJ Racing Commission adopted the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, which confirmed the initial judge’s ruling and ordered the purse money held in escrow be paid.
What The Hill went on to win the Canadian Trotting Classic and Breeders Crown as well as the TVG against older trotters, and was voted Dan Patch honoree for his division. Now standing at Hickory Lane Farm in Ohio, he attracted 140 mares in his first year at stud and will welcome his first foal crop this year.
Perfect Spirit continues to race as 5-year-old in Sweden and has earned over $1 million.
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