‘Maximum’ Controversy: For first time in Derby history, winner is bumped for fouling
Making history, Maximum Security, ridden by Luis Saez, was the first winner to be disqualified from winning the Kentucky Derby in the race’s 145 years. If you missed Saturday’s race and “the big event” and also missed the recaps and photos smattered across social media, accompanied by varying opinions, Maximum Security shot sideways across five lanes to entangle in the legs of War of Will, who was pulled up by his jockey Tyler Gaffilione. This caused War of Will to bump into Long Range Toddy, as Maximum Security straightened out and continued on in his pursuit of the win.
The official winner, Country House, trained by Mobridge, South Dakota native and Horse Racing Hall of Famer Bill Mott, was completely unaffected by the jumble, yet his rider Flavien Prat called foul on Maximum Security, who eventually placed 17th when it was all said and done. War of Will dropped to seventh and Long Range Toddy, trained by South Dakota’s Steve Asmussen, ended 16th.
“The horse [Maximum Security] looked like the best horse in the race, but he did impede two other horses and consequently got disqualified,” said Bob Johnson, of Johnson Racing Stables in Lemmon, South Dakota. “The horse that actually won the race made a mistake, interfered with other horses, and changed the outcome of the rest of the race. It’s a tricky situation, and it took the stewards a long time to make that decision. It was a hard one.”
Gary West, Maximum Security’s owner, attempted to make an appeal Monday though it was quickly refused by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC). According to Fox News, West will sue the KHRC for being denied the chance to appeal the disqualification. West said that Maximum Security won’t be running in the Preakness on May 18 since they no longer have a shot at the Triple Crown. Country House will also not be running in the Preakness due to illness.
“There has to be a certain amount of control of their mount. You can’t take away someone else’s racing lane when they’re already in it. The horse he interfered with [War of Will] was within reach, they interfered, their legs entangled,” Johnson said. “Had that rider [Gaffilione] not done a great job of straightening him out, it could have been a hell of a wreck.”
Johnson, who has been training race horses since 1977, said that losing momentum as War of Will and Long Range Toddy did is detrimental.
“When he had to check the horse, it stopped all forward momentum. It’s really hard in a race to regain it. I’m not saying he was going to outrun the winner, but what I am going to say is how do you know? They all have a chance,” he said. “That horse might have run second or third, which is a chunk of change.”
Shane Kramme, a starter at the Ft. Pierre, South Dakota, race track imparted a compelling argument in regard to the controversy swirling around the race, “No one is ever happy. There are always people saying it was wrong or it didn’t happen,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re racing for peanuts, let alone millions of dollars, no one is happy.”
Kramme humbly admitted that he is not a presiding steward, and though he has either ridden in or been at the back of the gates of more than 4,000 races, unless one is in the stewards’ shoes, in the atmosphere amongst other stewards, or have seen what they did, it’s impossible to make that decision. For all intents and purposes, he agrees that it was the correct decision per the rule, “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.”
While the condition of the track was not ideal after an onslaught of rain and the field of 19 horses was rather full versus the typical 14-horse races, Maximum Security’s blunder may have been caused by being spooked from a photographer, or perhaps from the crowd. While there is no way to know for sure what caused his untimely lane change, one thing is certain.
“They all stayed upright,” Kramme said. “It could have gone so poorly and been a black eye for horse racing. Nobody wants that; safety is the utmost concern for everybody involved and horses. I’m sure the stewards were looking out for safety, and that’s why they made that decision.”
While opinions are flying around the internet about the rule’s validity, and it’s quite clear that Maximum Security was the fastest horse of the day, the rule stands for safety reasons in a sport that is in the limelight at all times, say many experts.
“I know I heard some people say, ‘You don’t call fouls in the derby,’ but horse racing in general is under a lot of scrutiny now for transparency,” Kramme said. “The stewards knew they were being watched. There are many pressures facing horse racing nationwide; the large tracks are under a magnifying glass. I’m glad I’m not in their shoes.”
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For people across eastern South Dakota and Minnesota, the May 12 storm that lasted 20 to 30 minutes with a wall of wind and debris turned their worlds upside down.