LOUISVILLE (WAVE) — The star-crossed Maximum Security, disqualified winner of the Kentucky Derby, apparently is out of the Preakness, second leg of racing’s Triple Crown, because of cuts on his hind legs.
The cuts probably occurred when he made the weaving move in the stretch that cost him the Derby. He cut over in front of horses, momentarily getting his hind legs tangled with War of Will’s forelegs.
Had one of them gone down, it could have caused a horrific chain reaction that would have devastated the sport at a time when it’s under scrutiny because of 23 horses who died in racetrack accidents earlier this year.
That scrutiny probably caused the stewards to look at the Derby with new eyes. Instead of ignoring the usual bumping and shoving that happens in the Derby, they decided to observe the letter of the law for the good of the sport.
Nevertheless, owners Gary and Mary West were so angry about their colt’s DQ — he was easily the best horse in the Derby — that their announcement about skipping the Preakness initially had a whiff of sour grapes about it.
But the revelation about the cut legs gave the West’s reason enough to skip the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. Besides, who wants to go to ramshackle old Pimlico?
Through decades of neglect, benign or otherwise, the track has fallen into such a disgraceful state of disrepair that a section of clubhouse seats won’t be used Saturday because they’re unsafe.
Still, it would be great for the sport and TV ratings if Maximum Security were to make a miracle recovery and the Wests were to change their minds about running him in the Preakness.
It’s safe to say that his heart-breaking misfortune in the Derby — he was the first winner in 145 years to be taken down for riding violations — has made him the most popular horse in America.
Nobody likes to see a race decided by the stewards, especially when the winner was clearly the best. But jockey Luis Saez did, in fact, fail to keep his horse on a straight path, compromising the chances of others, and the Churchill stewards made the right decision.
Nevertheless, a lot of racing fans felt that Saez should not have been disqualified in the only race that allows a 20-horse field. Besides that, it has been common knowledge for decades that jockeys can take their best hold, so to speak, in the Derby because the stewards will do anything to avoid controversy in the world’s most famous race.
So Saturday’s Pimlico crowd probably would have greeted Maximum Security as if he were the second coming of Man o’ War. All those who thought he was treated unjustly at Churchill Downs would be howling for him to get a measure of redemption in Baltimore.
If were to win the Preakness, the crowd for the Belmont Stakes would be monstrous. They would have the chance to see a different kind of history in the making.
And if Maximum Security were to take the Belmont, the Wests could claim to have a Triple Crown winner of a unique sort — best horse in the Derby and winner of the last two jewels.
The sport, of course, would would never acknowledge him as an official Triple Crown winner. But he would be able to demand a Triple Crown winner’s fees at stud, besides earning a special niche in racing history.
Even if Maximum Security were to magically appear in either Baltimore or New York, there would be no rematch against Country House because trainer Bill Mott already has declared him out of both the Preakness and Belmont with an illness that developed after the Derby.
Trainer Shug McGaughey also has announced that Code of Honor, moved from third to second in the Derby, will skip the Preakness in order to prepare for the Belmont.
But trainer Bob Baffert will give Improbable a chance to improve his fourth-place Derby finish. Jockey Mike Smith, who rode Justify to Triple Crown immortality for Baffert last year, will replace Drayden Van Dyke. Baffert said the defection of Maximum Security influenced his decision to put Improbable in the Preakness.
Plenty of support also will go to Derby survivors War of Will and Win Win Win. The best of the “house horses,” those based in Maryland, appears to be Alwaysmining, who has won six in a row, including the Fredrick Tessio Stakes by 11 ¾ in his last start.
It’s probably only a silly dream to think Maximum Security willl show up in Baltimore at the last minute. But stranger things have happened in racing, a sport that captures the heart unlike any other.
Thoroughbreds only get one chance to run in the Triple Crown races. Unlike the other major sports, there’s no next year. But the Wests know that the horse always comes first, and their decision is as right as the one that cost them the Kentucky Derby.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter and contributor for WAVE 3 News.