65-1 Country House Wins Kentucky Derby after Leader DQed

2019 Kentucky Derby Controversy

Stewards declared Country House (left) the winner, but Maximum Security crossed the line first. 

65-1 long shot Country House won the 145th Kentucky Derby in a first-ever disqualification on Saturday. Maximum Security led from start to finish, but was DQed after stewards ruled it fouled War of Will while turning for home.

In the end, Code of Honor finished in 2nd place and Tacitus finished 3rd. The next in line were Improbable (4th), Game Winner (5th), and Master Fencer (6th). War of Will, the other horse at the center of the controversy, finished 7th overall.

Country House paid $132.40 to win, the second-biggest payout for a Kentucky Derby winner in the race’s history. Bettors with Maximum Security on their ticket lost over $9 million on the decision of the Kentucky racing stewards. Trainers, owners, and bettors each faced a 22-minute delay while the Churchill Downs stewards determined the results. Bettors scrambled for tickets they threw away in the moments after the race, as a disqualified horse could change many tickets.

The riders of Long Range Toddy and Country House lodged objections. Both claimed Maximum Security interfered with other horses.

How Maximum Security Interfered

As the horses left the quarter pole, Maximum Security veered into the path of War of Will as the rival horse made its move around the outside. The interference forced War of Will to alter its course and lose momentum.

Racing experts claimed the lead horses came close to a dangerous pileup in the slop. In the moments after the race, confusion reigned. Maximum Security’s trainer Jason Servis and jockey Luis Saez each celebrated the win, then had to face a long pause while stewards decided the outcome of the biggest race of their lives.

The owner of Maximum Security indicated he might appeal the decision. A lawsuit is a possibility. Gary West, owner of Maximum Security, told the Associated Press, “I think this is the most egregious disqualification in the history of horse racing. and not just because it’s our horse.”

Barbara Borden Statement

Several hours after the race, Kentucky’s chief steward Barbara Borden released a statement. Borden said, “The riders of the 18 [Long Range Toddy] and 20 [Country House] … lodged objections against the 7 [Maximum Security], the winner, due to interference turning for home, leaving the quarter pole. We had a lengthy review of the race.”

“We interviewed affected riders. We determined that the 7 horse drifted out and impacted the progress of 1 [War of Will] in turn, interfering with the 18 and 21 [Bodexpress]. Those horses were all affected, we thought, by the interference. Therefore, we unanimously determined to disqualify No. 7 and place him behind the 18 … the lowest-placed horse that he bothered, which is our typical procedure.”

Country House Wins 145th Kentucky Derby

Country House finished second in the original race. When the stewards DQed Maximum Security, it fell from 1st to 17th in the pack of 19 horses. Stewards deemed it 17th because two horses were unaffected by Maximum Security’s interference.

When the leader fell to 17th, Country House became the first Kentucky Derby winner not to finish the race in the lead. The decision not only increased the purse for Country House, but such decisions change the breeding fees for Country House and Maximum Security.

Bill Mott Wins His First Kentucky Derby

65-year old trainer Bill Mott won his first Kentucky Derby, though not in the fashion he’d have wanted. When asked about the DQ later, Mott said, “It’s bittersweet. You always want to win with a clean trip and have everybody recognize the horse as the very good horse and great athlete that he is. Due to the disqualification, I think some of that is diminished.”

Flavien Prat, the jockey who rode Country House, also won his first Kentucky Derby. Prat was one of two jockeys who originated a foul claim, so his reaction was subdued.

After letting out a long sigh, Prat said, “I’m kind of speechless right now.”

Omaha Beach in the Belmont Stakes?

Neither horse was a favorite heading into the week. Omaha Beach was a 4-1 favorite earlier in the week, but missed the race due to an injury discovered while training. It faces surgery and a 3-week recovery, meaning Omaha Beach will miss the Preakness, but might race in the Belmont Stakes.

Otherwise, three Bob Baffert-trained horses filled had the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best odds. Game Winner (5-1) started on the 16th gate, while Roadster (6-1) started at 17th. The combined finish for horses starting from those gates was 4-for-87, and now sits at 4-for-89. Improbable (6-1) had a better position, but also ran a disappointing race in the slop.