Billy Reed: Bizarre Derby result could be appealed, would make possible Preakness rematch interesting

Billy Reed: Bizarre Derby result could be appealed, would make possible Preakness rematch interesting
Jockey Flavien Prat reacts to the news that the Kentucky Derby result had been overturned in his favor, giving him his first Derby win aboard Country House.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Somebody call Robert Mueller. We need a special prosecutor to investigate what happened in the 145th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Surely the Russians are involved somehow.

For the first time in 145 years, the Derby winner was found guilty of committing a crime during the mile-and-a-quarter race. The victorious Maximum Security was disqualified to 17th and replaced by second-place Country House.

And get this: Country House paid $132.40 for a $2 win ticket, putting him behind only Donerail ($184.80 in 1913) on the list of longshot Derby winners.

It took the stewards 20 minutes to make their decision. That’s a lifetime when the Kentucky Derby is on the line. They took testimony from the jockeys involved and studied replays from all angles.

Billy Reed (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Billy Reed (Source: WAVE 3 News)

When the decision was announced, the rain-soaked crowd of 150,729 erupted in both cheers and jeers. You can bet the decision will be debated for decades. Maximum Security seemed to be much the best, finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Country House.

But everybody is equal under the law and the stewards did the right thing. As former jockey and TV analyst Jerry Bailey asked during the longest 20 minutes in sport, “Do they go by the letter of the law?”

Well, they did. They treated the Derby no differently than if it was the fifth race at Ellis Park. And in this era where women are seizing power as never before, it’s worth mentioning that Barbara Borden was the chief state steward.

Still, the connections of Maximum Security, who had an unbeaten four-for-four heading into the Derby, and everybody who bet him always will contend the punishment exceeded the crime.

Country House connections celebrate their victory as they walk over a muddy track toward the Winner's Circle. (Source: John P. Wise/WAVE3.com)
Country House connections celebrate their victory as they walk over a muddy track toward the Winner's Circle. (Source: John P. Wise/WAVE3.com)

When the decision was announced, trainer Jason Servis and jockey Luis Saez left the track stunned and crestfallen. But it was different with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and rider Flavien Plat.

They didn’t seem to know how to act, under the circumstances, but Mott made it clear he thought justice had been served. The second all-time leading trainer in Churchill history, this was Mott’s first win in the Derby.

“I wish it hadn’t happened this way,” he said, “but a foul was committed. I just hope the controversy doesn’t detract from the horse and all the people who worked so hard to get him here.”

It was a very good Derby for Mott. Tacticus, his Wood Memorial winner, finished third. Conversely, mega-trainer Bob Baffert, who had the top three betting choices, had to be disappointed with Improbable (fourth), Game Winner (fifth) and Roadster (15th).

The only other Derby winner to be disqualified is Dancer’s Image, who defeated Forward Pass in 1968 but was taken down when a then-illegal medication (Butazolidin) was detected in his post-race urine test.

The colt’s owner, Peter Fuller, went to court on the grounds that the post-race tests were compromised and inconclusive. After four years, the Kentucky Court of Appeals overruled a lower-court judge and declared Forward Pass to be the winner.

It was reported that Gary and Mary West, the owners of Maximum Security, have said they will use any legal means at their disposal to get the Derby trophy for their colt. The first step probably would be an appeal to the Kentucky State Racing Commission. Although some racetracks will accuse them of being bad sports, that’s nothing compared with the money and prestige on the line.

For the second consecutive year, the Derby was marred by rain and a sloppy track. Nevertheless, the race was cleanly run until the mess at the top of the stretch.

What made this decision so difficult is that Maximum Security didn’t cause any of his rivals to pull up. He didn’t knock anybody off stride. His transgressions were subtle, but were obvious to anybody who studied the replays as long as the stewards did.

Now the controversy will move on to Baltimore, where the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown will be held on May 18 at Pimlico. Racing fans everywhere are hoping both Country House and Maximum Security came out of the Derby sound enough to face off again.

And there’s this: Baltimore is close to Washington, D.C., the home of Robert Mueller. He’s not too busy these days. Anybody got his phone number?

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