Kentucky Derby Controversy
-By Dick Jerardi
One of the very first stories I ever wrote was for a newspaper in Baltimore in the aftermath of the controversial 1980 Preakness when Codex took Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk wide on the far turn and then ran away from the filly to give legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas his first Triple Crown race win. There was no disqualification that day and a subsequent appeal by the owners of Genuine Risk to the Maryland Racing Commission was turned down.
My story was about the Maryland stewards and the rules governing how they looked at replays to determine if fouls had been committed. I learned that everything was subjective and that consistency is incredibly hard. Nothing has changed.
The burden we put on our stewards is incredibly difficult. They somehow have to figure out what would have happened if what they deem interference had not happened. I think it is a borderline impossible task which is why I have always advocated that the first horse to wire wins and if the stewards want to go back later and penalize what they think were offending riders that would be fine.
I am in the distinct minority on this. And I am nothing if not pragmatic. So, after the 2019 Kentucky Derby controversy, I would advocate that North American racetracks adopt the international model where the only way the winner comes down is if he interferes with the second horse and clearly cost that horse the win. So everywhere else in the world, Maximum Security, who finished first, would be the official winner. That was obviously not the case in this Derby.
Obviously, Maximum Security went out several paths on the far turn. War of Will was impacted as was Long Range Toddy. I would argue that War of Will immediately recovered, had a clear shot for 400 yards to get by Maximum Security, could not do it and faded to eighth. I would also argue that Long Range Toddy looked like he was slowing down at that point and, while he may not have finished 17th, was not going to be any threat to hit the board.
By Kentucky rule, however, once the stewards determined that Maximum Security interfered with War of Will and Long Range Toddy, Maximum Security had to be placed behind the horse that finished the farthest behind of those two. Thus, Maximum Security officially finished 17th. And second-place County House, who was not impeded in any way and was decisively beaten by Maximum Security, became the 145th Kentucky Derby winner.
The stewards apparently have no discretion to look at what went down after the incident. I wish they would have it. The result of this Derby was the best horse “finished” 17th and the second-best horse “finished” first.
So, the “victory” was unsatisfying for Country House’s trainer Bill Mott, one of America’s best. It was his first Derby winner, but definitely not how he wanted to win it.
And I can’t even imagine how Maximum Security’s owners Gary and Mary West, trainer Jason Servis and jockey Luis Saez must feel. For 20 minutes, they won the Derby. Then, they lost it.
For 20 minutes, John and Jason Servis were the first brothers to train Kentucky Derby winners: John in 2004 with Smarty Jones and Jason in 2019 with Maximum Security. Then, they weren’t.