The winner of the 145th Kentucky Derby lost the Kentucky Derby by 1¾ lengths.
Look how goofy that sentence seems. “It doesn’t make any sense at all,” one would say. You can’t have a horse win the Kentucky Derby if it did not win the Kentucky Derby, right? To which I say…I don’t know. I’m still at a loss to wrap my head around what happened on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs when Country House was awarded the Derby after Maximum Security was disqualified.
First things first — Maximum Security was better than Country House. So, in that way, yes, Country House didn’t deserve the title. After Maximum Security swung wide heading into the stretch I jumped out of my chair, shocked, as it seemed, up until that point, to be Maximum Security’s race. However, when he went wide, while almost clipping War of Will, a contender in the last Louisiana Derby, in what could have been a catastrophic end to this race, the race opened back up. I actually thought that Code of Honor, who gained the rail, was going to win it all but Maximum Security had other plans.
The horses went four wide coming down the stretch and the crowd at Churchill and audiences all around the world felt the electricity. As did Maximum Security, digging deep and putting away the field in a beautiful stretch run. He beat Country House but the problem is what would War of Will have done?
There is no doubt that Maximum Security, being ridden by Luis Saez, impeded War of Will. No way, no how did that not happen. He was all over him. It was a helluva job by War of Will’s jockey to keep his horse from tumbling. War of Will’s momentum was obviously checked at the top of the stretch and he faded to finish seventh. No matter what side of the fence you’re on in this debate that is an absolute fact and raises a question that we will never know the answer to. Could War of Will have won it?
Risen Star Stakes
Country House ran a superb race in the Derby and deserves a ton of accolades. He was the longest shot on the board at 65-1. He was an afterthought at best. Then he came out and put his best work in to date.
Before that, he ran twice at the Fair Grounds (see what you’re missing?) in the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby against, guess who, War of Will. Both horses missed the board during the Louisiana Derby but in the Risen Star Stakes it was War of Will getting the best of Country House. If he did it then, why couldn’t he have gotten past Country House and Maximum Security in Kentucky? Especially considering that War of Will rested after the Louisiana Derby and Country House ran in the Arkansas Derby three weeks later. Point being, while all of the talk is about Country House being given the Derby it was War of Will who was checked midstride and had his shot at history lost.
Luis Saez riding Maximum Security, second from right, goes around turn four with Flavien Prat riding Country House, left, Tyler Gaffalione riding War of Will and John Velazquez riding Code of Honor, right, during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
I understand the public outcry on a few levels. The first, and oldest, being that we watched Maximum Security win the race. It’s very simple. This horse took on 18 others and bested them all. He was the champ. On another level, if you are even a casual fan of the sport, when you watch a horse win the Kentucky Derby it immediately stomps its way into your heart as the people’s champion. It happens every single year. Even though it’s a Triple Crown, and the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes are also called “jewels” of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby champion is the one we always remember.
Another issue is the fact that Country House’s jockey Flavien Prat submitted an objection because that reeks of dirty pool. In no way did Prat’s ride get affected. Country House was on the outside and may have been bumped a little bit but that’s just the norm of racing in tight quarters. Couple that with the fact that War of Will, after almost getting ran over, didn’t submit an objection and it all smells of someone trying to talk their way into a championship.
Another issue that I really hate to admit is that this story just feels so 2019. The play on the field didn’t rule the day. It was someone reviewing a video as the world sat around for over 20 minutes on social media screaming about who was right and who was wrong. It lessened the race and will probably open a can of worms for years to come.
With all of that said, even though my gut tells me I’m wrong, I guess they got the call right. It’s not that Maximum Security impeded Country House but he did impede War of Will to such a major degree I guess the call had to be made. I keep thinking about what Bill Mott, trainer of Country House, said when the world was waiting for the verdict.
“If it was a maiden claimer on a week day the winner would come down and it’s not supposed to matter, the Kentucky Derby or whatever it is.”
And, that is an absolute fact.