The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Gr 1) was destined to make the news like no other preceding Derby had done. First, there was a dramatic twist to the tale with pre-race favourite Omaha Beach being scratched from the race due to epiglottis entrapment. The absence of the favourite meant that the race was thrown into a turmoil which was also reflected even after Maximum Security passed the winning post comfortably ahead of Country House. There were two objections in the race and after a lengthy debate, the Stewards took the unprecedented decision of disqualifying the winner and awarded the race to the runner-up who was the least affected by the skirmish caused by the original winner.
There was an objection by the riders of Country House who finished second and Long-Range Toddy who finished 17th. After long deliberations that lasted more than 20 minutes, the winner was disqualified. This was the first instance of a Derby winner having been disqualified for reasons unrelated to doping reasons. The decision was widely discussed with most terming it as harsh and unimaginable. Since Country House did not appear to be disturbed by the interference, it was a gift race for Country House. Maximum Security undoubtedly was the better horse in the day. Maximum Security, the 4-1 favourite who finished first by 1 3/4 lengths, was taken down and placed 17th, behind Long Range Lady.
Country House, a son of Lookin At Lucky out of the War Chant mare Quake Lake, was the second highest priced horse to win the race in all its 145 years.
The victory was the first in the Run for the Roses for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who ranks second on the all-time wins list at Churchill Downs.
Maximum Security shifted out from the rails as the field took the final turn, bumping War of Will who was on his outside. The interference affected Long Range Tody who lost his stride. An objection was lodged by jockey Flavien Prat, who was aboard Country House. Jon Court, the rider of Long Range Toddy, also lodged an objection.
Barbara Borden, chief steward for Kentucky Horse Racing Commission issued the following statement: "The riders of the 18 (Long Range Toddy) and 20 (Country House) 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 (War of Will), who in turn interfered with the 18 and 21 (Bodexpress). Those horses were all affected. Therefore, we unanimously determined to disqualify number 7 and place him behind 18. That is our typical procedure.
Bill Mott who thus added the Kentucky Derby to his CV, called the victory "bittersweet". Mott said, "First of all, I think our horse ran great. I was really pleased with the position he had. I was pleased with the way Flavien rode him and the way the horse responded for him.
"As far as the win goes, it's bittersweet. 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. I am sure that the disqualification will be discussed for a long time to come. But then 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."
The time for the race, run over a sloppy (sealed) track drenched by rain late in the afternoon was 2:03.93.
Maximum Security, the 4-1 favourite, showed speed under Luis Saez to take charge of the proceedings from the word 'go’. The frontrunning winner of the Florida Derby (G1) ran aggressively in front, zipping over the wet surface with demanding opening splits while being stalked by Long Range Toddy, Boldexpress, and War of Will, who broke well from the inside post. When the field passed the wire the first time, Country House was ninth. Bill Mott later said that he always believed that Country House had the potential if only he woke up.
Maximum Security maintained his advantage through the first six furlongs while a host of runners gathered momentum to make a run at him approaching the final turn. War of Will was gaining along the inside, as was Code of Honor, Long Range Toddy and then Country House joined the fray. On the turn, Maximum Security came out from the rails brushing with War of Will, who had to check, as did Long Range Toddy.
Maximum Security was challenged strongly by Code of Honor but fought back after a mile in 1:38.63. Country House made a good rally but fell short. Tacitus, trainer Mott's other runner in the field, rallied to finish fourth and clinched the third spot following the disqualification.
Maximum Security is not the first horse to be disqualified in the Kentucky Derby. In 1968, Dancer's Image finished first. However, due to the discovery of phenylbutazone (Bute) in a post-race urinalysis of Peter Fuller's homebred, the Kentucky State Racing Commission ordered redistribution of the purse, with first-place money to Forward Pass. After extensive litigation, the commission's order was upheld in April 1972 by Kentucky's highest court in Kentucky State Racing Commission according to information made available to the media. There was another instance of an objection in the running of the 2001 Derby but the same was not sustained in the Stewards room.
Maximum Security is trained by Jason Servis, brother of John Servis, who trained 2004 Derby winner Smarty Jones.."That's horse racing," said Gary West, the breeder and owner of Maximum Security. "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you win and lose in the same race." Louis Saez who rode Maximum Security said: ''I thought I never put anybody in danger. My horse shied away from the noise of the crowd and may have ducked out a little.’’
For someone who has been covering racing extensively in India, the Kentucky Derby offered an amazing experience. The crowd of over 100,000 was something I had not seen even in a cricket match in India. The weather was not friendly with intermittent rains throwing things out of gear for the fashionably dressed crowd. It is a tribute to the marketing of the event that they could pull off a big logistical circus. There was not an inch of space as a sea of humanity descended to watch the race. About 14000 people were on hand to ensure that the proceedings went through without a hitch. The day’s programme started very early in the day and the long card allowed the visitors could have a long day at the race course and also soak in the festive atmosphere. The mint and julep drink that had the crowd in good spirits. The semi-circle shaped stands were full as also the stands opposite the Grand Stand. Importantly, the arrangement to help the crowd reach the parking lot was excellent. The enterprising people living in the proximity of the race course too made a fast buck by offering their spaces for parking of the cars charging $25. The facilities for the media was excellent and our Indian authorities need to learn a thing or two the way the mega-events are conducted.
Work stations for the media at the Chuchill Downs
Packed crowds in the stands to witness the Kentucky Derby