Maximum Security led the Kentucky Derby every step of the way except for the last one – into the winner’s circle.
The colt became the first winner disqualified for interference in the Derby’s 145-year history, leading to an agonising wait and an eventual stunning reversal that made 65-1 shot Country House the winner on Saturday (Sunday AEST).
Country House finished second in the sloppy conditions before the objection was raised, causing a 22-minute delay while three stewards repeatedly reviewed different video angles before they unanimously elevated him to first.
The win gave Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first Derby victory at age 65.
“It’s bittersweet. You always want to win with a clean trip and have everybody recognise the horse as the very good horse and great athlete that he is,” Mott said.
“Due to the disqualification, I think some of that is diminished.”
Country House paid $132.40 to win – the second-highest payout in Derby history. He was the least affected horse in the chain of events on the rain-soaked track, but the biggest beneficiary.
“Looking at the tote board there’s probably a lot of people that didn’t think we could win,” Mott said. “But that’s horse racing.”
Gary West, who owns Maximum Security with his wife, Mary, indicated they may pursue an appeal.
“I think this is the most egregious disqualification in the history of horse racing,” he told the Associated Press.
“And not just because it’s our horse.
“We are exploring our options to appeal.
“If we can’t appeal to the stewards, our other options are the state racing commission. If those don’t work, we might go to legal options.”
The disqualification was a crushing turn of events for Maximum Security’s trainer Jason Servis and jockey Luis Saez, who had already begun celebrating.
Instead, the previously undefeated Maximum Security was demoted to 17th of 19 horses for veering out turning for home and stacking up War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress (also owned by the Wests), according to Barbara Borden, chief steward of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
Country House, in turn, was brushed by Long Range Toddy.
Sent off as the 9-2 second choice, Maximum Security was placed behind all the horses he bothered.
“I never put anybody in danger,” Saez said. “My horse shied away from the noise of the crowd and may have ducked out a little.”
Servis backed up his jockey.
“He’s right. He straightened him up right away and I didn’t think it affects the outcome of the race,” he said.
Prat claimed Maximum Security ducked out in the final turn and forced several horses to steady, including Long Range Toddy, whose jockey, Jon Court, also lodged an objection.
Mott said War of Will and Long Range Toddy “lost all chance” to win.
“They were in position at the time to hit the board,” the trainer said. “If what happened to us was the only thing they were looking at I don’t think you would have seen a disqualification.”
Mott said the incident was caused by Maximum Security’s action and not Saez’s riding tactics.
“I don’t think Luis Saez did anything intentionally,” he said. “My heart actually aches for them a little bit. That’s the way it is. I’ve been on the other end of it, just not in the Kentucky Derby.”
The only other disqualification in the Derby occurred long after the race in 1968. Dancer’s Image, the first-place finisher, tested positive for a prohibited medication, and Kentucky state racing officials ordered the purse money to be redistributed. Forward Pass got the winner’s share and a subsequent court challenge upheld the stewards’ decision.