by Jon White
May 9, 2019
There is no question that the 2019 Kentucky Derby is going to be discussed and debated for a very long time.
I had hoped this week to be writing about Omaha Beach heading to the Preakness Stakes following his victory in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby. But after Omaha Beach had been installed as the 4-1 morning-line favorite, he was scratched from the Run for the Roses due to an entrapped epiglottis.
Instead of participating in last Saturday’s $3 million Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach underwent surgery Friday. Dr. Rolf Embertson performed the operation at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. Omaha Beach, who currently is at WinStar Farm in Kentucky, could return to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella’s Santa Anita barn as soon as this weekend, according to Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen.
With Omaha Beach out of the Kentucky Derby, I had to call a last-minute audible in terms of my pick to win. I decided to go with War of Will.
As far as Maximum Security was concerned, I wrote last week that “I could see him either winning or finishing way back.”
Little did I know that he would do both.
Maximum Security was the only horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby to have recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or higher, something he had done twice.
“How good is Maximum Security?” I wrote. “We really don’t know. What if he’s a freak? His average margin of victory in four career starts is 9 1/2 lengths! Considering he has an unblemished record and sports the only two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in the field, if Maximum Security does outrun them all on Saturday, I am going to feel pretty dumb for not picking him to win.”
When Maximum Security reached the finish line 1 3/4 lengths in front with an ecstatic Luis Saez in the saddle, I did indeed feel pretty dumb for not picking him to win. But shortly after the race was over, the objection sign was posted. Flavian Prat, the rider of Country House, who had finished second, claimed foul against Maximum Security, alleging interference nearing the five-sixteenths pole. The inquiry sign was never posted.
Because War of Will had been my pick to win, I focused on him while watching the race as it was being run. As I observed the Derby runners going into the far turn, I could see that War of Will, with Tyler Gafflione aboard, was bottled up along the inside rail while full of run when racing directly behind the leading Maximum Security.
I was hoping that Gaffalione somehow would find a way to extricate War of Will from being boxed in, especially since it appeared the colt was so full of run. I had hoped that War of Will might be able to slip through between Maximum Security and the inside rail.
But as they made their way around the far turn, no hole between Maximum Security and the rail ever opened. Shortly after passing the three-eighths pole on the bend, Gaffalione finally did angle War of Will outward to get to the outside of Maximum Security. But then an incident occurred that turned this 145th running of the Kentucky Derby into one of the most controversial races in the history of the sport.
While leading the way on the far turn, Maximum Security suddenly veered out sharply approaching the five-sixteenths pole. “Veered out sharply” is what’s stated in the official Equibase chart.
After the race, Saez said Maximum Security had “shied away from the noise of the crowd.” Perhaps Maximum Security reacted from something like shiny light reflecting off the wet track or from something or someone in the infield. Whatever the reason, the point is Maximum Security did leave his path or lane.
When Maximum Security veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths pole, he impeded War of Will, who very nearly clipped heels. In racing parlance, War of Will almost got dropped.
In a chain reaction triggered by Maximum Security when he veered out sharply, Long Range Toddy and Master Fencer also were impacted. Flavian Prat, who rode Country House, said afterward that he felt his mount, as a consequence of Maximum Security veering out, was pushed sideways, as he described it. I am unable to see that in many viewings of the videotape replay. I saw it more like how the Equibase chart puts it, that Country House “was brushed by Long Range Toddy while largely unaffected by the incident five-sixteenths out.”
It did appear to me that there was one other horse minimally affected by the incident in the vicinity of the five-sixteenths pole due to the chain reaction triggered by Maximum Security. Cutting Humor was rallying wide at the time, then had to swing even wider to avoid the congestion that suddenly had materialized to his inside.
The original order of finish in terms of the superfecta was Maximum Security first, County House second, Code of Honor third and Tacitus fourth. But after the objection sign was posted, the stewards deliberated for approximately 22 minutes, then disqualified Maximum Security from first and placed him 17th for “veering out and stacking up War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress,” as stated in the Equibase chart.
The official order of finish for the 2019 edition of the Grade I Kentucky Derby in terms of the superfecta now is Country House first, Code of Honor second, Tacitus third and Improbable fourth.
It was the first time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby that a winner has been disqualified for an incident during the running of the race. But Maximum Security is not the first Kentucky Derby starter to be disqualified.
Gate Dancer, who became known for racing with earmuffs and who was infamous for lugging in, finished fourth in the 1984 Kentucky Derby. But he was disqualified and placed fifth for causing interference to Fali Time. Gate Dancer lugged in during the stretch run and bumped poor little Fali Time “several times,” as chronicled in the official Daily Racing Form chart.
Later in 1984, Gate Dancer finished second to Wild Again in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park. Battling for the lead in the final sixteenth, from the inside rail out, were Wild Again, Slew o’ Gold and Gate Dancer. Wild Again won by a head. Gate Dancer finished second, a half-length in front of Slew o’ Gold in third. Many thought Wild Again had drifted out and impeded Slew o’ Gold. But Gate Dancer lugged in and bumped Slew o’ Gold. Gate Dancer pushed Slew o’ Gold into the hindquarters of Wild Again. That caused the front part of Wild Again’s body to be at an angle toward the grandstand, giving the illusion that he was drifting out. But Wild Again stayed on his path or in his lane. The stewards disqualified Gate Dancer and placed him third, behind Slew o’ Gold.
Prior to this year, Dancer’s Image had been the only Kentucky Derby winner ever to be disqualified. When the post-race urinalysis of Dancer’s Image showed the presence of Butazolidin, which at the time was a prohibited medication in Kentucky, Forward Pass was declared to be the winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby except for pari-mutuel payoffs. First purse money and the winning trophy were awarded to Forward Pass’ owner, Calumet Farm, by order of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC). Peter Fuller, owner of Dancer’s Image, fought the disqualification in court for years, but to no avail.
I think it’s fair to say the 2019 Kentucky Derby is the most controversial Triple Crown race since the 1980 Preakness Stakes. That 1980 Preakness is famous for an incident between Codex and the filly Genuine Risk turning into the stretch. Like the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the inquiry sign was not posted after the 1980 Preakness.
Just before they straightened away in the stretch during the 1980 Preakness, Codex and jockey Angel Cordero Jr. had a narrow lead while racing to the inside of Genuine Risk. Jacinto Vasquez rode Genuine Risk. Two weeks earlier Vasquez and Genuine Risk had won the Kentucky Derby.
In Richard Sowers’ book “The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes,” he wrote of the 1980 Preakness incident turning for home when Codex already was racing wide:
“When Angel Cordero glanced over and saw Genuine Risk coming, he guided Codex even wider toward the center of the track. Vasquez had no choice but to take Genuine Risk even wider, momentarily checking his mount, then pointing her almost at the grandstand. Depending on the source, Codex never actually touched Genuine Risk, violently slammed into her, or lightly brushed her -- the most likely scenario. Regardless, the filly lost all momentum.
“Codex reached the furlong pole a length ahead of Genuine Risk with the rest of the field nowhere in sight, then coasted home 4 3/4 lengths in front.”
“Vasquez quickly filed a foul claim against Cordero, who was greeted by vociferous boos by the record crowd of 83,455 and by two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation when he returned to the jockeys’ quarters. While those who bet on Genuine Risk no doubt would love to have seen Cordero arrested, the FBI agents actually were on hand to protect Cordero after the FBI had received threats that the jockey’s home was going to be bombed.
“The stewards disallowed the foul claim, and Genuine Risk’s owner, Diana Johnson Firestone, filed a formal complaint with the Maryland Racing Commission, which like the stewards, upheld Codex’s triumph.”
As for Maximum Security’s disqualification in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, here are some of my thoughts:
--The stewards have been criticized for not posting the inquiry sign. I do think that criticism is merited. But whether or not an inquiry sign is posted in any race, it is incumbent for stewards to adjudicate what had occurred during the running of the race vis-a-vis the rules in that particular jurisdiction.
--I often have heard people say that there if there is a claim of foul and no inquiry, there is virtually no chance the stewards will make a change to the original order of finish. One thing this year’s Kentucky Derby once again proves is that stewards generally keep an open mind in determining whether or not a foul had been committed and/or a disqualification is warranted.
--Flavian Prat, the rider of Country House, who originally finished second, lodged an objection again Maximum Security. It was not known publicly until after Saturday’s Churchill Downs card had been completed that Jon Court, the rider of Long Range Toddy, who originally finished 17th, also lodged an objection against Maximum Security. Prat and Court both alleged interference nearing the five-sixteenths pole. Court’s foul claim was not known publicly until it was mentioned by Barbara Borden, the KHRC’s chief steward, during a statement she read to the media after the final race of the day at Churchill Downs. In my opinion, the stewards dropped the ball by not making the public aware that Court, in addition to Prat, had lodged a claim of foul. Whereas Prat’s objection was noted in the original Equibase chart, there was no mention that Court also lodged an objection. The chart eventually was corrected to also include Court’s objection.
--After watching the race live and a replay or two, I did not expect there would be a disqualification, especially considering Gaffalione had not claimed foul. I figured that if Gaffalione did not think it was worth claiming foul, then Maximum Security’s number probably would stay up. But as I saw more replays of the incident near the five-sixteenths pole, it became more evident to me that there might be a disqualification. It became clear that Maximum Security did not stay on his path or in his lane. By not doing so, he triggered a chain reaction that impacted multiple horses. War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy were most egregiously impacted. Country House and/or Cutting Humor also possibly were minimally impacted.
--The applicable KHRC rule states in part, “A leading horse, if clear, is entitled to any part of the track. If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul.”
Stewards Borden, Butch Becraft and Tyler Picklesimer thus had to determine, in their judgment, did Maximum Security swerve? Their conclusion was, yes, he did. I agree. I think virtually everyone agrees on that point. Even Maximum Security’s rider said immediately after the race that Maximum Security had ducked out.
--The applicable KHRC rule further states in part, “If in the opinion of the stewards a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.”
A key phrase in that sentence is “may be disqualified” as opposed to “shall be disqualified.” This means the stewards have discretion in how they adjudicate a race. Even if they conclude a horse has committed a foul, they may or may not disqualify said horse. If they deem that the foul altered the finish of the race in question, then the horse should be disqualified in accordance with KHRC rules. On the other hand, if they deem that the foul did not alter the finish of the race, then they are permitted, under KHRC rules, to rule that there will be no disqualification of the horse in question.
If it is concluded that Maximum Security swerved, did he then commit a foul? The stewards must address the second component of the applicable rule by also determining whether or not Maximum Security did “interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey.” Also, in the opinion of the stewards, if they conclude that by virtue of his actions Maximum Security did commit a foul, did it alter the finish of the race? If so, the offending horse “may” be disqualified by the stewards.
The way I saw it:
1. Maximum Security did not stay on his path. He veered out sharply approaching the five-sixteenths pole.
2. As I said earlier, Maximum Security triggered an incident causing interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy, with possibly Country House and/or Cutting Humor also minimally impacted.
3. War of Will finished eighth, beaten by only a half-length for fifth. Fifth pays $90,000. I believe that when Maximum Security impeded War of Will, it cost War of Will the opportunity to finish fifth or possibly higher. Therefore, in my opinion, Maximum Security should have been disqualified. The stewards did disqualify Maximum Security and placed him behind the horse involved in the incident who finished the lowest, that being Long Range Toddy. That’s why the stewards placed Maximum Security 17th.
--For those who are of the opinion that Maximum Security should not have been disqualified, what if his actions had caused War of Will to clip heels and fall? That came dangerously close to happening. Some photos show just how scary a predicament it was for War of Will, whose front legs amazingly did not clip or get tangled up with Maximum Security’s hind legs.
If there had been a big wreck involving War of Will and/or a number of other horses, not only would Maximum Security most assuredly have been disqualified for causing the accident, I doubt very few people then would have disagreed with that decision. If Maximum Security’s actions warranted a disqualification had there been a spill, then why should he not be disqualified just because, luckily, there was not a spill?
If War of Will had tripped and fallen to unseat Gaffalione, it would have occurred with a large number of horses racing behind them. In all likelihood, there would have been a multi-horse spill similar to a horrific pile-up on a freeway. Multiple horses and jockeys could have been severely injured, or possibly even worse. No doubt such a grisly scene would have been shown over and over and over on television and depicted on social media. It would have given horse racing the blackest of black eyes in what already has been an extremely difficult year for the sport.
In the statement read by Borden explaining the stewards’ decision to disqualify Maximum Security, she said: “The rider of the 18 (Long Range Toddy) and 20 (Country House) horses in the Kentucky Derby lodged objections against the 7 horse (Maximum Security), the winner, due to interference turning for home, leaving the quarter pole.
“We had a lengthy review of the race. We interviewed affected riders. We determined that the 7 horse drifted out and impacted the progress of No. 1 (War of Will), in turn interfering with the 18 and 21 (Bodexpress). Those horses were all affected, we thought, by the interference.
“Therefore, we unanimously determined to disqualify No. 7 and place him behind the 18, the 18 being the lowest-placed horse that he bothered, which is our typical procedure.”
--Borden called it “a lengthy review” on their part. Many have criticized the stewards for taking so long -- approximately 22 minutes -- to announce their decision. Normally, I believe that if it takes more than about five minutes for stewards to make a decision, that in itself is saying that nothing is clear-cut enough to warrant a disqualification.
But I said that I normally believe that. That’s when stewards are looking at an incident involving two or maybe three horses rather than Saturday’s 19-horse Kentucky Derby. The stewards had much to consider during their video review of the bunched-up field on the far turn of the Kentucky Derby, even after deciding Maximum Security had drifted out and committed a foul that warranted a disqualification. The stewards had to take a look at those horses anywhere near the incident in question. The stewards had to go through it, horse by horse, to ascertain whether that particular horse had been involved in the incident, and if so, to what extent.
Another factor that can play into the length of an inquiry is the stewards getting in contact with and talking to the riders. Also, once the stewards decide there is going to be a disqualification, they will be in communication with the mutuel department. The mutuel department needs sufficient time with a new order of finish before they are good to go with posting the payouts. Sometimes the mutuel department will need time to deal with the new order of finish.
--After Borden read the statement explaining the disqualification of Maximum Security to the media approximately two hours after the Kentucky Derby, the stewards took no questions from the media. That, I believe, was inadvisable. They could have said “no comment” to any questions they did not to want to go the record by answering at that time. But at least the stewards would not have look as bad as they did by not taking a single question.
When similar circumstances have occurred in California following a controversy in a big race (such as when Bayern was not disqualified for causing interference leaving the starting gate in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic), a steward or stewards for the California Horse Racing Board have been available that same day to take questions from the media.
Gary West owns Maximum Security in partnership with his wife, Mary. Jason Servis trains the colt. According to a Daily Racing Form story written by David Grening, West said Sunday that after the disqualification had been made, he instructed the colt’s trainer to request a meeting with the stewards to go over video replays of the race, but the request was denied. West said he was told the earliest the stewards would go over the video of the race with him would be Thursday, which would be the next live racing day at Churchill Downs.
The Bloodhorse’s Frank Angst quoted Gary West as saying of the stewards Sunday: “I can’t believe their total lack of transparency on a matter of this magnitude.”
Angst wrote that Borden “said Sunday evening the stewards would be willing to meet with West, or other license holders involved, when they sit down Thursday with jockeys involved in the incident. She also said the meeting could happen before Thursday.”
Borden, Angst wrote, “said she was not able to review the video with West or trainer Jason Servis because there were two races remaining on the card and, typically, reviews are not conducted on the same day stewards’ decisions are made.”
In my opinion, due to the circumstances that this was a historic disqualification in the nation’s signature race, the stewards probably would have been better served to not treat this like a “typical” situation and meet with West and Servis, either after Saturday’s racing at Churchill Downs had been completed or the following day.
Perhaps by explaining their decision to West and Servis, the stewards could have mollified them and defused the situation to some extent. I am thinking that probably would not have happened, but it was worth a shot. There really would have been no downside that I can see for the stewards if they had gone ahead and met with West and Servis on Saturday.
Karen Murphy, a New York attorney, and Barry Stilz, a Kentucky attorney, filed an appeal Monday morning with the KHRC. According to Angst, the appeal filed on behalf of the Wests requested their appeal be heard by the full commission because the stewards’ actions were “arbitrary and capricious and did not comply with applicable administrative regulations. Their determination to disqualify Maximum Security is not supported by substantial evidence.”
However, the applicable KHRC rule regarding an appeal as to the judgment call made by the stewards to disqualify Maximum Security is quite clear. According to the KHRC rules, “stewards’ findings of fact and rulings on matters occurring and incident to the running of the race shall be final and not subject to appeal.”
In light of that KHRC rule, it came as no surprise that the appeal filed Monday morning with the KHRC was denied later in the day.
The KHRC, in a letter sent by its general counsel, John L. Forgy, to representatives of the Wests on Monday, informed the owners of Maximum Security that their appeal had been denied.
“Because stewards’ disqualification determination is not subject to appeal and for the reasons set forth below, your request for appeal is denied,” the letter from Forgy said, according to Angst. “Consequently, your request for stay pending appeal is moot because the law does not provide for an appeal.”
Angst reported that the appeal denial letter noted that as a license condition for racing in Kentucky, every licensee agrees to abide by the KHRC’s rules and regulations.
--Many have expressed their displeasure that Country House is the official 2019 Kentucky Derby winner when many, including the stewards and yours truly, believe that he was not interfered with in the incident near the five-sixteenths pole. It understandably leaves a sour taste in many mouths that Country House got “kissed in” to a Kentucky Derby victory after Maximum Security had reached the finish line in front, just as he had done in all four of his previous career starts.
Andrew Beyer wrote in the Daily Racing Form: “NBC’s slow-motion coverage clearly showed Maximum Security moving [over] in front of War of Will, forcing jockey Tyler Gaffalione to steady his mount. This was a foul -- no doubt about it. The incident could have resulted in a bad accident -- but it didn’t. It probably cost War of Will a length, but he recovered quickly. He had a clear path ahead of him and a quarter of a mile in which to catch Maximum Security, and he drew within a length of the leader, but he faded badly at the end and finished eighth. He was never going to win the Derby, or even finish in the money. Nor were the two longshots who were behind War of Will on the turn and were also hampered by the incident.”
Beyer makes the point that “the incident could have resulted in a bad accident -- but it didn’t,” the implication being that if the incident had resulted in a bad accident, then Maximum Security should have been disqualified. As I said earlier, if there had been a bad accident, I don’t think anybody -- including obviously Beyer -- would have disagreed with disqualifying Maximum Security. In my opinion, Maximum Security was lucky he did not cause a bad accident. But being lucky in that regard does not, in my view, absolve Maximum Security from being held accountable for the interference that even Beyer concedes he caused.
“I don’t see how justice was served in any way by disqualifying the best horse,” Beyer also wrote. “And it certainly was not served by elevating Country House, who had a relatively easy trip, and had every chance to catch Maximum Security in the stretch, but couldn’t do it.”
As I have said to many participants during the times in which I have worked as a steward in California, Washington and Idaho, whenever a horse does not stay on his or her path, there is an increased risk that the horse could be disqualified and the rider sanctioned. If Maximum Security had simply stayed on his path or in his lane, he would have been the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner.
I do concur with those who say it’s unfortunate that Country House was awarded the 2019 Kentucky Derby victory via Maximum Security’s DQ rather than any of the horses who were interfered with on the far turn. But that’s just not how it works. I will say that Country House does deserve to get some credit for running a race that was good enough to finish second in the field of 19, which is what enabled him to be the major beneficiary of Maximum Security’s disqualification.
MORE FALLOUT FROM DISQUALIFICATION
On Tuesday, Bob Ehalt wrote for the BloodHorse that West “now believes it was Maximum Security who was fouled by War of Will, instead of how stewards at Churchill Downs viewed the race.”
West made reference to his viewing of a slow-motion video of that portion of the Kentucky Derby that had been posted on May 6 on the Horse Racing Nation website.
“I started out trying to make a case for my horse coming down,” West said. “I watched what we did to [War of Will] in one video and if anyone is halfway intellectually honest and looks at that video, they would never claim our horse did anything to War of Will. You will see that every bit of the interference was caused by War of Will against Maximum Security.
“Watch how many times War of Will’s legs go up under our horse. Our horse gets cut up like crazy. At some point his nose touches the back of our horse. He actually bumps our horse. Our horse almost falls down. And if not for our rider there might have been 10 dead riders and horses this morning.”
Gary Barber and Mark Casse have a much different view of what happened on the far turn in the Kentucky Derby. Barber owns and Casse trains War of Will.
“He must have been watching a different race,” Casse is quoted as saying in Ehalt’s story. “I’ve seen 10 different views and if anything, it was worse than I originally thought. [Maximum Security] didn’t bump us once, he bumped us twice. In my mind, the only reason it took so long to take him down was because they didn’t know where to place him.”
Barber released a statement that said in part: “It has recently been brought to my attention that Mr. Gary West stated on Fox News that my horse War of Will caused the infraction in the Derby. I categorically deny this false accusation. The video evidence irrefutably shows that his horse, Maximum Security, caused a major infraction that almost led to a catastrophe and in doing so, denied my horse and others of a better placing.”
I viewed the video posted on Horse Racing Nation numerous times. When the video begins, apparently past the five-sixteenths pole, Maximum Security was leading whenracing along the inside rail while staying in his path, with War of Will racing directly behind Maximum Security. Approaching the three-eighths pole, War of Will angled to the outside. When he did that, it appears he made contact with Long Range Toddy. But from there to near the five-sixteenths pole, when West alleges that War of Will causes interference to Maximum Security, I do not see that on the video.
West said to watch how many times “War of Will’s legs go up under our horse.” I do see that, but in my opinion, when that occurred, I believe it was because Maximum Security had veered out sharply into War of Will’s path. On the videotape, I do not see War of Will bump Maximum Security, as West alleged. I do see War of Will nearly get dropped by Maximum Security. I am not buying the hypothesis that the incident was caused by War of Will running up and somehow impeding Maximum Security from behind.
Gaffalione on Tuesday via Twitter also responded to West’s allegations.
In his tweet, Gaffalione displayed four photos showing the field on the far turn. In Gaffalione’s tweet, MS is Maximum Security, LRT is Long Range Toddy and BE is Bodexpress.
Gaffalione said in his tweet: “…In the first picture MS is inside. Second picture MS comes out herding LRT and BE. Third and fourth photo show that MS comes back in and I took the spot he vacated. Never did I bump or brush anyone.”
As I noted earlier, it does appear to me that Gaffalione and War of Will did make contact with Long Range Toddy approaching the three-eighths pole. But keep in mind that Court, the rider of Long Range Toddy, evidently did not feel that contact, if it did occur, was of consequence in that he claimed foul only against Maximum Security for the incident nearing the five-sixteenths pole. Court did not claim foul against War of Will for anything he did.
Meanwhile, West said Maximum Security “got cut up like crazy.” I don’t doubt that. But in my opinion, Maximum Security likely would not have sustained cuts allegedly inflicted by War of Will if Maximum Security had stayed on his path rather than veering out into War of Will’s path.
Ben Glass, racing manager for the Wests, said in a Tuesday story written by Jonathan Lintner for Horse Racing Nation that Maximum Security exited the Kentucky Derby with abrasions on his hind legs. Glass said that’s the reason the connections had not thought any further about entering Maximum Security in the May 18 Pimlico Stakes at Pimlico.
According to Lintner, after Maximum Security arrived Tuesday at Monmouth Park, Servis had a professional photographer “document the wounds.” A state vet also signed an affidavit confirming they were fresh from the race.
“This is why Jason said we can’t go -- because he’s got abrasions and [is] swollen a little bit,” Glass said. “Mr. West and I, we were leaning toward the Preakness if we got this overturned. We were going to go for the Triple Crown.”
This revelation of Maximum Security’s abrasions is interesting inasmuch as the morning after the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs reported in its “day after” notes for the race that “trainer Jason Servis reported via text message Sunday morning that Gary and Mary West’s Maximum Security exited his eventful run in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby in good order.”
Servis said Maximum Security exited the race “in good order,” but now the racing manager for the Wests says that Servis said they can’t go to the Preakness because the colt’s “got abrasions and [is] swollen a little bit.”
Like I said, the 2019 Kentucky Derby is a race that is going to be discussed and debated for a very long time.
COUNTRY HOUSE VIRTUALLY IGNORED IN THE BETTING
From a wagering perspective, this year’s Kentucky Derby went from being won by Maximum Security, the 9-2 second choice, to Country House, who was the second-longest priced winner in the history of the race at 65-1.
Country House, a Kentucky-bred son of Lookin At Lucky and the War Chant mare Quake Lake, paid a whopping $132.40 for each $2 win ticket. He returned $56.60 to place and $24.60 to show.
That meant my pick to win the 2005 Kentucky Derby, Closing Argument, still holds the record for the highest place payoff in the history of the race. Closing Argument, dismissed at 71-1, paid $70 to place after finishing second to 50-1 longshot Giacomo.
The win by Country House ended the streak of six straight Kentucky Derby winning favorites.
TRIPLE-DIGIT BEYER POSTED BY MAXIMUM SECURITY
As I wrote last week, being able to produce a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or higher in the Kentucky Derby is important. It almost always takes a Beyer of 100 or higher to win the race.
As mentioned earlier, the only starter in this year’s Kentucky Derby to have ever recorded a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or higher was Maximum Security, something he had done twice. The Kentucky-bred New Year’s Day colt was credited with a 102 Beyer when he won a seven-furlong allowance/optional claiming race by 18 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20. Maximum Security then recorded a 101 when victorious by 3 1/2 lengths in Gulfstream’s Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles on March 30.
In terms of Maximum Security’s performance to finish first in the Kentucky Derby, he was assigned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. He completed 1 1/4 miles on a sloppy track in 2:03.93.
Other than Maximum Security, everyone else, including Country House, failed to get a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Country House recorded a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure for his Kentucky Derby effort. His previous top had been a 91 when he finished third behind Omaha Beach and Improbable in the Arkansas Derby.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1989:
2019 Country House (99)+
2018 Justify (103)
2017 Always Dreaming (102)
2016 Nyquist (103)
2015 American Pharoah (105)
2014 California Chrome (97)
2013 Orb (104)
2012 I’ll Have Another (101)
2011 Animal Kingdom (103)
2010 Super Saver (104)
2009 Mine That Bird (105)
2008 Big Brown (109)
2007 Street Sense (110)
2006 Barbaro (111)
2005 Giacomo (100)
2004 Smarty Jones (107)
2003 Funny Cide (109)
2002 War Emblem (114)
2001 Monarchos (116)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (108)
1999 Charismatic (108)
1998 Real Quiet (107)
1997 Silver Charm (115)
1996 Grindstone (112)
1995 Thunder Gulch (108)
1994 Go for Gin (112)
1993 Sea Hero (105)
1992 Lil E. Tee (107)
1991 Strike the Gold*
1989 Sunday Silence (102)
+Country House finished second but was placed first through the disqualification of Maximum Security
*No Beyer Speed Figure listed
PRAT AND MOTT TEAM UP FOR THE VICTORY
Congratulations to Flavian Prat and his agent, Derek Lawson, for winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby with Country House. Prat, 26, has emerged as a riding star on the Southern California circuit and now can put a Kentucky Derby victory on his list of accomplishments.
Prat rode Omaha Beach in his first five races. But when Prat opted to ride Galilean the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 16, Hall of Famer Mike Smith was given the call to ride Omaha Beach in the Rebel. Smith retained the mount on Omaha Beach for the Grade I Arkansas Derby, which they won on April 13.
One can’t blame Prat and Lawson for feeling down when it had appeared that they had missed out on riding Omaha Beach in the Kentucky Derby. But all’s well that ends well. It turned out great for Prat in the end as he won the Kentucky Derby with Country House, while Omaha Beach was scratched from the race.
If Mott was going to win the Kentucky Derby this year, most people figured it would be with Tacitus, who was sent away at 5-1 compared to Country House’s 65-1. Though Tacitus did not win, after being as far back as 16th, he rallied to finish fourth and was moved up to third via Maximum Security’s DQ.
This was Mott’s first Kentucky Derby victory. Following the DQ of Maximum Security, it turned out that Mott sent out the official first- and third-place finishers in this year’s Run for the Roses, which was quite a feat. The 65-year-old Hall of Famer has conditioned fellow Hall of Famers Cigar and Royal Delta, plus such other champions as Ajina, Escena, Favorite Trick, Paradise Creek and Theatrical.
STRIKES FOR MAXIMUM SECURITY AND COUNTRY HOUSE
In 1999, I developed my Derby Strikes System. The system consists of nine key factors that attempt to determine the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from both tactical and historical perspectives. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. The nine key factors (or categories) are explained at the end of this column.
Maximum Security, who finished first in this year’s Kentucky Derby, had one strike. Like so many horses these days, he got a strike in Category 6 for having made fewer than six lifetime starts prior to the Kentucky Derby.
Country House, now the official winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, had two strikes. He got one strike in Category 2 for not having won a graded stakes race prior to the Kentucky Derby, plus another strike in Category 3 for not having been first or second at the eighth pole in either of his two most recent starts before the Kentucky Derby.
Including this year, 38 of the last 47 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or just one strike. If Maximum Security had not been disqualified, it would be 39 of the last 47.
After this year’s Run for the Roses, seven of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005), Always Dreaming (2017) and Country House (2019).
Of the last 47 horses to win the Kentucky Derby, only two, Mine That Bird and Justify, have done so with more than two strikes. Mine That Bird had four strikes, one more than Justify.
WINNER’S STRIKES FROM 1973 THROUGH 2019
The Derby Strikes System can’t go back any further than 1973 due to the fact that two of my nine key factors deal with graded stakes races. Races in the United States were first graded in 1973.
Here are the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973:
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3*
2018 Justify (3 strikes) Categories 1, 6 and 8
2017 Always Dreaming (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 6
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (1 strike) Category 6
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (1 strike) Category 6
2011 Animal Kingdom (1 strike) Category 6
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (1 strike) Category 6
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (1 strike) Category 6
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 9
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
*Maximum Security, with one strike in Category 6, finished first in 2019 but was disqualified and placed 17th
“EIGHTH POLE FACTOR” COMES THROUGH AGAIN
One of the most important factors that I consider when trying to predict the winner of the Kentucky Derby is figuring out who has a very good chance to be either first or second with a furlong to go. Including this year’s Kentucky Derby, 54 of the last 57 winners have been first or second with a furlong left to run.
Last Saturday, with a furlong to go, Maximum Security was first, while Country House was second.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 378 Bricks and Mortar (26)
2. 313 McKinzie (7)
3. 275 Gift Box (3)
4. 201 Midnight Bisou (201)
5. 196 Mitole
6. 193 World of Trouble
7. 149 Monomoy Girl (3)
8. 90 Roy H
9. 89 Thunder Snow (2)
10 77 City of Light (2)
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 378 Maximum Security (25)
2. 344 Omaha Beach (13)
3. 318 Country House (6)
4. 258 Code of Honor
5. 253 Tacitus
6. 178 Game Winner
7. 175 Improbable
8. 156 War of Will
9. 55 Serengeti Empress
10. 33 Roadster
DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
These are the nine key factors (or categories) in my Derby Strikes System (updated through 2019):
1. THE GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race as a 3-year-old before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition at 3 prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Since the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003, Giacomo in 2005 and Country House in 2019 are the only exceptions since the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE FACTOR. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 54 of the last 57 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second at the eighth pole in his or her most recent two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990, Sea Hero in 1993 and Country House in 2019, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS FACTOR. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION FACTOR. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE FACTOR. (The horse has had at least six lifetime starts before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the needed experience. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Grindstone in 1996, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, Barbaro in 2006, Big Brown in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2011, I’ll Have Another in 2012, American Pharoah in 2015, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah and Always Dreaming each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown and Justify had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS FACTOR. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
8. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018 are the only Kentucky Derby winners who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. Through 2018, the score is 142-2 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 1 for 63 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to win, place or show were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; Battle of Midway, third in 2017; and Justify, first in 2018.)
9. THE NOT A GELDING FACTOR. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)