LOUISVILLE, KY – America’s most storied sporting event rewrote its own history on Saturday when the 65/1 longshot Country House was named the first-ever winner via disqualification of the Kentucky Derby (G1) Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs.
Breaking from post 20 under Flavien Prat as the second-longest shot in the field, Country House found himself sitting ninth as the field entered the clubhouse turn, much closer than he sat previously. Up front, Maximum Security set the early pace as expected, running fast early (:22.31 for the opening 1/4-mile) before settling comfortably and slowing down considerably (:46.62 and 1:12.50).
Still leading midway through the far turn, Luis Saez remained motionless aboard Maximum Security, even while as many as six horses fanned out to make a bid along his outside.
And that’s when the controversy hit.
Perhaps it was the tire tracks left from the tractors sealing the sloppy surface. Perhaps it was the lights reflecting on the shiny dirt. Whatever it was, something spooked Maximum Security 3/4 of the way through the far turn because he suddenly veered out, impeding War of Will and creating a domino effect that also adversely affected Bodexpress, Long Range Toddy, and Country House. War of Will appeared to take the worst of it, nearly clipping heels twice:
— Jeremy Balan (@jeremybalan) May 4, 2019
Saez attempted to correct Maximum Security, but once he responded, he came down and bumped into Code of Honor, who was attempting to sneak through along the rail. Finally running straight at the top of the stretch, Maximum Security dug deep and slowly began inching away. Country House fought gamely down the middle of the track but couldn’t catch the initial pacesetter, and in the immediate aftermath, it appeared that Maximum Security had delivered the first-ever Derby wins to Saez, trainer Jason Servis, and owner-breeders Gary and Mary West.
As the field began slowly trickling back to the front stretch to be unsaddled, the announcement was made that both Prat and Jon Court (aboard Long Range Toddy) had each lodged an objection against Maximum Security for the incident in the far turn. The Churchill Downs stewards commenced reviewing the replay from every possible angle.
The crowd grew restless, with the majority favoring no change – likely due (at least in part) to Maximum Security being the 9/2 second shot on the board.
After 22 minutes, the decision was made official: Maximum Security was taken down, making Country House the first horse to ever be moved up to first via disqualification (Dancer’s Image was the only other horse to be disqualified, though it came after a post-race drug test found illegal substances in his system following the 1968 running). A chorus of boos rang out at Churchill Downs, with only a handful having correctly chosen the longshot on top.
“I thought 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.”
Maximum Security wasn’t just moved down to second – because the stewards believed that War of Will had been interfered with the most, Maximum Security was dropped all the way down to 17th, behind Long Range Toddy. The stewards later released a statement; here is an excerpt:
“We had a lengthy review of the race. We interviewed affected riders. We determined that the 7 horse (Maximum Security) drifted out and impacted the progress of number 1 (War of Will), in turn, interfering with the 18 (Long Range Toddy) and 21 (Bodexpress). Those horses were all affected, we thought, by the interference.”
Servis understandably did not agree with the stewards.
“I don’t think it changed the outcome of the race,” he said. “It looks like something scared him in the infield, but I haven’t been able to watch it that close. It looked like he ducked out a little bit.”
Code of Honor, who ran on well to cross in third, was bumped up to second following the change in order. Country House’s stablemate Tacitus overcame running far back early to rally in the stretch and beat the 4/1 favorite Improbable for third by a head.
Game Winner, the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion, had a rough start and trailed throughout, then ran very wide in the far turn but still managed to get up for fifth by a head over the Japanese qualifier Master Fencer.
For the first time in three years, the UAE Derby (G2) winner did not finish last, thanks to Plus Que Parfait taking ninth.
Win Win Win finished 10th ahead of Cutting Humor and By My Standards, while Bodexpress never recovered after taking up and finished 14th by a head over Tax. Completing the order of finish came Roadster, Long Range Toddy, Spinoff, and Gray Magician.
Both Haikal and Omaha Beach, who was the initial morning line favorite, had scratched earlier in the week for various health reasons.
Country House’s win was his first since breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park on January 17 at third asking. The 3-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky jumped from that maiden-breaking effort straight into the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds, where he finished second, and the Louisiana Derby (G2), where he finished fourth. Still lacking enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, Mott uncharacteristically ran Country House back just three weeks later in the Arkansas Derby (G1), resulting in a third-place finish that gave him enough points to make the gate.
“I think the horse ran great,” Mott said. “I was pleased with the position he had and the way Flavien (Prat) rode him. The horse responded for him. (As far as the disqualification), it’s bittersweet and I’d be lying if I said It was any different. You say you always want to win with a clean trip and everyone recognize the horse as the as the great athlete he is and due to the DQ some of that is diminished. Two horses lost all chance to win a Kentucky Derby and they were in a position at the time to hit the board. People bet on these horses and millions are bet on these races. I know the stewards had a very difficult decision. With that being said, I’m damn glad they put our number up.”
Country House’s record now stands at 7-2-2-1 with $2,120,175 earned for breeder Mrs. J. V. Shields, Jr., and co-owners E. J. M. McFadden, Jr., and LNJ Foxwoods.
Country House returned $132.40 to win, $56.60 to place, and $24.60 to show. Code of Honor brought back $15.20 to place and $9.80 to show, while Tacitus paid $5.60 to show.