Whew. How was your weekend? Thoroughbred racing went to Churchill Downs for the 145th Kentucky Derby and somehow came away with more than a winner. Great, heaping quantities of rain fell from the sky, turning the track to slop, Maximum Security ran like 2-9 favorite (instead of 9-2 second choice) and won by 1 3/4 lengths to complete a five-month revelation from $16,000 maiden claimer to winner of the most famous race in the country.
And then, and then, everything changed.
Responding to foul claims by two jockeys, the stewards at Churchill Downs overturned the victory, disqualified Maximum Security for causing interference at the top of the stretch and awarded the $3 million Derby to Country House. It was the first disqualification for an on-track infraction in the race’s history.
Officially, Country House and jockey Flavien Prat gave Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first Derby win while returning $132.40 on a $2 win ticket. Code Of Honor was placed second with Tacitus (another Mott trainee) third. Maximum Security’s winning time was 2:03.93.
The winner was bred by Joseph “Jerry” Shields Jr., who died at age 80 in October. Shields worked on Wall Street, played polo, bred and raced Thoroughbreds and served on numerous boards and committees as diverse as the New York Racing Association and the Boys Club of New York. Owned by Shields’ widow Maury, Guinness McFadden and LNJ Foxwoods, Country House is a third-generation homebred following his dam Quake Lake and her dam Shooting Party. The latter raced for Shields and his longtime trainer Allen Jerkens, who also conditioned such Shields runners as Grade 1 winners Wagon Limit and Passing Shot.
The winner raced twice as a 2-year-old late last year, finishing ninth in a turf race at Belmont Park and second on the dirt at Aqueduct (at 49-1). He graduated the maiden ranks at Gulfstream Park in January and placed in two of his three Derby preps – including a third behind Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby in April – to earn enough points to enter the field but not necessarily be one of the favorites.
Prat was aboard for the first time Saturday, and engineered a settled trip in mid-pack from post 18. Ninth through 6 furlongs, Country House advanced to find a comfortable spot up the backstretch – 5 lengths behind but a few paths off the rail and – after a half-mile in :46.62. Past 6 furlongs in 1:12.50, he was surfing in a four-horse wave just behind leaders Maximum Security, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress. Two in the drafting quartet – from the rail War Of Will, Improbable, Country House and Vekoma – soon played big roles. Country House went four wide to engage Bodexpress, War Of Will created a little room and came out from behind Maximum Security. Just past the three-eighths pole, Maximum Security switched from his left lead to his right and veered out – catching War Of Will, who went to his right and took Long Range Toddy’s path.
Outside of those three, Country House missed much of the melee but was floated wider than he was to start. Corrected by Saez, Maximum Security went back to his left and alongside a rail-skimming Code Of Honor. War Of Will and Country House also came back inside, to the three and four paths and those four met at the top of the stretch and were on even terms – briefly. Maximum Security responded to Saez and turned aside the challenges. War Of Will cracked first, fading to seventh. After accelerating into contention through the hole off the turn, Code Of Honor hung late and wound up third. Country House saw it through until about the sixteenth pole, but settled for second.
Until he didn’t have to. Jon Court, 17th aboard Long Range Toddy, claimed foul. So did Prat. After 22 minutes of deliberation, the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th – advancing the horses who crossed the finish line second through 17th one spot each.
Derby Stewards Statement
Steward Barbara Borden read a statement to the media after the race, but did not take questions.
The riders of the 18 (Long Range Toddy) and 20 (Country House) horses in the Kentucky Derby lodged objections against the 7 (Maximum Security) horse, the winner, due to interference turning for home, leaving the 1/4 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 Number 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 Number 7 and place him behind the 18, the 18 being the lowest‑placed horse that he bothered, which is our typical procedure.
Early Monday, West told the Today Show he would appeal the decision and that Maximum Security would not run in the Preakness May 18. Kentucky rules do not permit the appeal with regard to decisions based on in-race incidents.
Derby fans weathered a steady late-afternoon rain, but wagering from all-sources was the highest all-time on both the Kentucky Derby Day program and on the Kentucky Derby race.
Wagering from all-sources on the Kentucky Derby Day program totaled $250.9 million, an 11 percent increase over the 2018 total and previous record of $225.7 million. Wagering from all-sources on the Kentucky Derby race increased 10 percent to $165.5 million from the previous record of $149.9 million set last year. This year’s wagering record includes $4.1 million of handle wagered in Japan with this being the first year the Kentucky Derby has ever been offered for wagering in the country.
TwinSpires, Churchill’s online and mobile betting platform, recorded $48.4 million in handle on Churchill Downs races for the Kentucky Derby Day program, an increase of 20 percent over the prior year. TwinSpires’ handle on the Kentucky Derby alone was $30.2 million, up 23 percent over 2018.
Attendance of 150,729 decreased 4 percent compared to last year. This year’s Derby purse was elevated $1 million to a guaranteed $3 million making it the richest Derby in history.
In Other News
Saturday’s stakes-filled at Churchill Downs included, typically, a little bit of everything.
Mia Mischief won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff over favorite Marley’s Freedom for trainer Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana Jr. The 4-year-old filly kicked away from Amy’s Challenge after a half-mile, opened up 2 1/2 lengths in the stretch and won by 1 3/4 lengths.
Irish-bred Beau Recall won the Longines Distaff Turf Mile for trainer Brad Cox and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Sent off at almost 11-1, the 5-year-old ousted Got Stormy with Daddy Is A Legend third as favorite Precieuse settled for fifth.
Speedster Mitole won the Grade 1 Churchill Downs Sprint, drawing off late by 3 1/2 lengths as the 2-1 favorite. Bobby’s Wicked One was second with Promises Fulfilled third. Santana rode the winner (now 3-for-3 on the year) for Asmussen.
Irish-bred Digital Age (Ortiz) took down the American Turf for 3-year-olds. The son of Invincible Spirit rallied from ninth early to win by three-quarters of a length over A Thread Of Blue for trainer Chad Brown. Social Paranoia was a head back in third. One race before the Derby, Brown and Ortiz teamed up to win the Grade 1 Turf Classic with Bricks And Mortar, who won his fourth consecutive race.
Mr. Money (Gabriel Saez) won the Pat Day Mile by 5 1/4 lengths for trainer Bret Calhoun.
Handicappers’ Report Card
The TIHR pickers didn’t handle the slop so well. Ben Gowans and Sean Clancy had four winners over the Friday and Saturday stakes cards at Churchill. Ben came up with three on Friday (McKinzie, She’s A Julie and World Of Trouble) and one on Saturday (Mitole). Sean had two each day (Break Even and World Of Trouble Friday, Mitole and Digital Age Saturday). Tom Law had three winners (McKinzie plus Digital Age and Bricks And Mortar). Joe Clancy, John Cox and John Shapazian managed two winners over the two days. Cox was the only TIHR handicapper to select Maximum Security, while nobody listed Country House among their top three selections.
– From the Maryland Jockey Club
Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable’s Bourbon War, fourth in the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in his most recent start, has joined the probable list for the 144th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course May 18.
“He’s doing excellent. Right now, he’s probable for the Preakness,” trainer Mark Hennig said Monday morning from Belmont Park. “We had a conference call yesterday and speaking with the owners we felt like after watching the events of the weekend, the Florida horses gave a good account of themselves and we felt we were competitive with them. So, why not take a shot in the Preakness rather than the more conservative route we were thinking in the Peter Pan?”
Bourbon War closed from far back to finish fourth behind Maximum Security, Bodexpress and Code of Honor in the Florida Derby.
“He and Code of Honor have been pretty close together in their races. Maximum Security certainly showed up and held up that form from Florida, so I think it seems like a smart move to try the Preakness,” Hennig said.
• Trainer Bill Mott on Monday morning said he was “leaning toward” running adjudged Kentucky Derby winner Country Housein the May 18 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. The Hall of Famer said that, so far, he is seeing the right signs for running the Lookin At Lucky colt back in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown in two weeks.
“We’re leaning toward the Preakness, since he is the Derby winner and we don’t want to pooh-pooh the Triple Crown,” Mott said at Churchill Downs. “We want to support that. If he’s real good and continues to do well with no issues, not worn out, all those good things, we’ll keep pecking away and going in that direction. If there’s anything we don’t like as we get into the weekend or early next week, we won’t feel – I don’t feel – a lot of pressure to run him, and talking to the ownership group, I don’t think they’ll put on a lot of pressure, if I’m not happy with him for some reason.”
Country House, who crossed the finish line second but was awarded the victory upon the disqualification of Maximum Security from first to 17th for interference, walked the shedrow for a second day Monday morning and will walk again Tuesday before a possible return to the track Wednesday.
“We’ve had another race or two more than some of the horses,” Mott said. “He went three weeks, three weeks and now this is back in two weeks. It would be an ambitious schedule, to say the least. What I’ve noticed from training horses the last 40, 50 years is that sometimes horses look great coming out of a race, and maybe a week, 10 days later, then they’ll show you maybe they’re a little bit tired. I’m not saying that’s going to happen. I don’t know.”
Mott said Country House will stay at Churchill Downs before flying out next week.
Mott acknowledged that winning the Kentucky Derby for the first time was not what he had anticipated, giving the controversy over the stewards’ decision to disqualify Maximum Security.
“I just told [co-owner] Guinness [McFadden], ‘You know, a month from now, a year from now, 20 years from now, we’ll probably appreciate this more than we are able to do right now,’” Mott said.
• Allen Hardy, overseeing trainer Mark Casse’s Churchill Downs division, continued to be amazed that Preakness candidate War of Willcame out of the Derby unscathed.
War of Will was running on the rail behind pace-setting Maximum Security on the far turn before jockey Tyler Gaffalione, with no space on the inside, eased him to the outside of the leader. Soon thereafter, Maximum Security apparently shied from something and drifted out in to the path of War of Will, causing War of Will to come over into Long Range Toddy. Through Maximum Security’s disqualification, War of Will moved up from eighth to seventh place.
Hardy said the only scratch War of Will sustained was “the size of a fingernail.”
War of Will is scheduled to resume training Wednesday or Thursday at Churchill Downs. The plan is to run in the 1 3/16-mile Middle Jewel of the Triple Crowns unless a reason not to surfaces, he said.
“We’re really happy with how he came out of the race,” Hardy said. “That was probably one of the biggest scares I’ve ever seen, and probably for many others. It was surprising. We checked him head to toe as soon as he came back to the barn. We were expecting something to pop up or see something, and he came out of the race great. He’s happy, he’s healthy. He’s in his feed tub. He’s bright-eyed. He still wants to bite you. So we’re very happy.”
• Preakness candidate Bodexpress, who also was impeded in the sequence that started when Maximum Security came out, also had a walk day. Trainer Gustavo Delgado is expected back at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. Bodexpress finished 14th and was moved up to 13th in the disqualification. Mr. Money, a Preakness possibility after winning Churchill Downs’ $400,000 Pat Day Mile with authority, likewise had the standard walk day two days after a race. Other Preakness prospects include Code of Honor;Alwaysmining, who extended his winning streak to six races in the Federico Tesio at Laurel Park on April 20; Anothertwistafate, runner-up in the Lexington and the Sunland Derby in his last two races; Laughing Fox, winner of the inaugural Oaklawn Park Invitational; Owendale, winner of the Lexington; and Signalman, third in the Blue Grass.