The 2019 Kentucky Derby was contested on May 4, 2019 at the legendary Churchill Downs. No one could have expected the events that transpired in the 145th Run for the Roses. Country House was declared the longshot winner after favorite Maximum Security was disqualified. The win for Country House gave Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first Derby Win.
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2019 Kentucky Derby Ends in Controversy
Race day in Kentucky dawned with heavy rains that are common in the region during May. Still, almost 150,000 fans were in attendance with millions watching the live broadcast on NBC. There was much excitement among bettors due to the scratch of Omaha Beach, the presumed favorite. Many felt that the exit of Omaha Beach left the 2019 Kentucky Derby a wide open affair.
Others focused their attention on Maximum Security. The horse was trained by Jason Servis whose brother John was the trainer of former Derby winner Smarty Jones. Maximum Security was undefeated going into the race and had shown ability on muddy tracks. Bettors made the horse the post time favorite.
Bob Baffert was also involved. The trainer responsible for the last two Triple Crown winners had three horses involved in the affair, including Game Winner. War of Will, the winner of the Louisiana Derby was also given significant betting action. It appeared to be a competitive race until the gates opened and trouble ensued.
Maximum Security established a lead right from the start and held it throughout. As other horses gave chase on the wet track, Maximum Security pressed his lead into the final stretch. Then, as the horses were making their final push to the wire, the horse apparently tried to evade a puddle of water. He jumped to the side and came out of his racing path, cutting off War of Will and other horses in the process.
The incident was scary to those who are familiar with horse racing. For a moment the legs of War of Will and Maximum Security were tangled. Either horse could have went down but both stayed up as Maximum Security crossed the wire in front. Meanwhile, Country House was closing fast on the outside and found himself impeded by War of Will.
As soon as the race finished the ominous announcement to “Hold all tickets!” was made. This meant that the track stewards were reviewing the video of the race to determine if a foul had been committed. The jockeys on Country House and Long Range Toddy filed objections against the winning horse and rider. At this point the final outcome of the race was on hold.
An Agonizing 22 Minutes at the Kentucky Derby
Maximum Security was led back to the Winner’s Circle under the presumption that he had won the race. His jockey, Luis Saez, was interviewed on horseback by NBC. The jockey was overwhelmed to have won his first Kentucky Derby. He had no clue that upstairs the racing officials were discussing the possibility of a disqualification.
While the stewards deliberated, the connections of Maximum Security celebrated their win. Owners Gary and Mary West were confident that they had claimed their first Derby winner in their long ownership career. Meanwhile, trainer Bill Mott spoke to reporters about Country House. The training legend made it clear that he believed the winner should be disqualified.
Finally, after 22 minutes of deliberation, the stewards announced that Maximum Security would be disqualified from the race and placed 17th. The new winner of the race was Country House, the horse that had originally finished second. NBC scrambled to get interviews with the new winning connections as the crowd in attendance booed.
For the first time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby the finish of the race was changed due to an immediate disqualification. Only one other horse had ever been disqualified, and that was due to a failed test for illegal medications following the race.
The Fallout of the 2019 Kentucky Derby
It is unclear at this time what the ultimate fallout will be from the 2019 Kentucky Derby. On the track the reaction was harsh. Many bettors who had wagered on Maximum Security felt cheated. In a bizarre turn of events the President of the United States even tweeted about the race. Trump stated that only in an era of political correctness could the disqualification could have occurred.
Gary West, the owner of Maximum Security, was at first gracious. West stated that things like this happened in racing, and he gave his congratulations to Bill Mott and the connections of Country House. By Sunday morning, however, West had changed his tune. He indicated that he might pursue a challenge to the outcome of the race in federal court.
There is no doubt that the racing stewards in Kentucky had a hard time with their decision. No steward wants to be put in the position of deciding such a big race. However, the stewards appeared after the race to explain and justify their decision. The decision of the stewards in this case is final and not subject to appeal.
The incident in the 2019 Kentucky Derby comes at a difficult time for horse racing. During the winter race meet at Santa Anita a record number of horses were euthanized due to racing injuries. 23 horses lost their life at the track, prompting PETA and other groups to call for a ban on the sport. The muddied results of the 2019 Kentucky Derby have only complicated the issue. Some claim that 20 horses is too many and that the field should be reduced.
History Made in 2019 Kentucky Derby
Never before has a horse been disqualified as the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Country House will go down in history as the horse that won the Kentucky Derby without actually winning it. Many believe that the 63-1 longshot did not have a legitimate chance to win, and that has only increased the anger and frustration of some race fans.
It is possible that this event could create some rule changes for the big race going forward. The Derby officials may consider limiting the field to 12 horses. Many are also wondering how the Preakness and Belmont Stakes will be affected. The connections of Maximum Security have already stated that they will not run their horse in the Preakness Stakes.
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