Hold your horses: Country House wins 145th Kentucky Derby in stunning decision
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Kentucky Derby on Saturday freakishly joined the Miss Universe pageant and the Academy Awards among recent-years competitions with apparent results overturned. In a development unprecedented in the 145-year history of the race, the horse who crossed the wire first met with disqualification by the stewards' ruling about 20 minutes after his connections exulted.
Just after Maximum Security seemed to add a dizzying chapter to an implausible surge of a lightly raced colt claimed in December for a paltry $16,000, 65-1 shot Country House became the winner. That left two byproducts of note. It made Country House the second-longest shot to win, behind only 91-1 Donerail in 1913, and it lavished Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott with his first Kentucky Derby win in 10 entries stretched patiently across 35 years.
"It's something that it'll give somebody a lot to talk about for a long time," Mott said.
In just his fifth race, after the first four at Gulfstream Park in South Florida, Florida Derby champion Maximum Security grabbed a hasty lead and appeared to beat back 18 rivals wire-to-wire in a race deemed wide-open. He appeared to win by 1 3/4 lengths in 2:03.93. He appeared to give the Servis family a remarkable distinction, with trainer Jason Servis winning on a sloppy track 15 years after his brother, John, won with Smarty Jones on a sloppy track. As the second choice among wagerers at 9-2 behind Improbable at 4-1, he appeared to snap the six-year run of favorites hogging the race.
Then came an objection, invoked by Flavien Prat, the 26-year-old jockey from Melun, France, based in Southern California and riding in his third Kentucky Derby.
"I did ask," Prat said.
The stewards began reviewing video for the first such claim since 2001, when Monarchos's win over Invisible Ink stood after an objection. Horsemen such as Mott, Prat, Servis and Maximum Security jockey Luis Saez stood and waited awkwardly among the 150,729 spectators in various stages of disbelief and other conditions. The review concerned the banging around the turn toward the top of the stretch, when Maximum Security barged over to his right and impeded War of Will and Long Range Toddy, which in turn, Prat said, helped derail Country House.
While they waited, Mott told NBC, "There was definitely a foul in the race," and, "I would say this: If it were a maiden claimer on a weekday, the winner would come down." Commenting for NBC, Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Jerry Bailey suggested that while an infraction had occurred, the stewards might overlook it because, as he said, "The best horse won the race."
Later, Prat and Mott said they felt the horse, not the jockey, had caused the ruckus, with Saez saying the crowd might have unsettled him. Said Prat, "It's not only me, but the horses between Maximum Security and Country House that have been affected." Said Mott, "It may have affected us slightly, but I would say it affected the other two horses dramatically. . . .They lost all chance, and those two horses lost their opportunity to win or place."
Eventually, the stewards did what none since the race began in 1875 had done: They took down the winner because of an infraction - different from the controversy of 1968, when Dancer's Image appeared to win the Derby only to have it overturned after a post-race drug test, with Forward Pass declared the winner.
"As far as the winning goes, it's actually very - it's bittersweet," Mott said. "I'd be lying if I said any different."
He said everyone always seeks a clear outcome, where "everybody can recognize the horse as the great athlete he is." Long regarded as an elite horseman of uncommon patience and as the trainer of 1990s two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, the South Dakota native then said of the stewards, "I'm glad I wasn't in their shoes. I'm glad I didn't have to make a decision in front of a hundred thousand people and millions of people watching around the world."
Then he said, "With that being said, I'm damned glad they put our number up."