Maximum Security controversy at Kentucky Derby

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The late, great sports journalist Jim McKay opened his iconic weekly ABC television show “Wide World of Sports” with this famous line: “The thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat.” 

How fitting those words were last Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Maximum Security, trained by Jason Servis and owned by Gary and Mary West, went wire-to-wire in the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby. It appeared to be the first Derby win for Servis and also for the Wests, who have spent a fortune buying and breeding young horses trying to win the race and did so with a homebred who actually debuted for a $16,000 claiming tag.  

Some 22 minutes after crossing under the wire first, Maximum Security was disqualified for interference around the far turn and placed 17th behind Long Range Toddy.  He became the first winner of the Kentucky Derby in history to be disqualified for a racing infraction (1968 Kentucky Derby winner Dancer’s Image was disqualified days later for a medication violation). Country House was declared the official winner of the Derby. 

The events that took place in the time between the horses crossing under the wire and the steward’s decision to disqualify Maximum Security need a closer look. 

The three Kentucky stewards (Kentucky chief state steward Barbara Borden, state steward Brooks “Butch” Becraft, and association steward Tyler Picklesimer) did not post the inquiry sign immediately after the running of the Derby. 

When the objection sign did go up on the tote board, it was announced over the public address system at Churchill Downs that Flavien Prat, jockey of runner-up Country House, had claimed foul against winner Maximum Security alleging interference around the far turn. As such, the lights of the number seven (Maximum Security) and the 20 (Country House) began blinking on the tote. They were the only blinking numbers. 

The stewards ruled that Maximum Security did not interfere with Country House. The incident, however, did affect others. 

Maximum Security veered out two to three lanes approaching the top of the stretch. It could have been the crowd noise. It could have been the glare from the lights on the wet track. It could have been any number of things. 

When he did, he forced War of Will on his outside to steady sharply off heels. Jockey Tyler Gafflione and War of Will deserve plaudits for their athleticism to avoid falling and creating a true disaster. Long Range Toddy was squeezed back from between War of Will and Country House and faded thereafter to be well beaten. 

After reviewing the patrol films, was there a foul in the race? Yes. Was Maximum Security responsible for the infraction? Yes. Did he deserve to be disqualified? Yes. If you like, the discussion can end right there, but this was the Kentucky Derby. 

Gafflione said the stewards never spoke to him about the incident. He also did not claim foul even though War of Will was most impacted by Maximum Security. The stewards say that jockey Jon Court aboard Long Range Toddy also claimed foul, but that claim was never announced to the public and that foul claim is not recorded in the official result charts of the Derby. 

Two hours after the Derby, the stewards issued a statement to the media about the incident and why they unanimously decided to disqualify Maximum Security. They did not, however, take any questions from the media, such as “Why did they not post the inquiry sign themselves?” or “Why wasn’t the public notified that jockey Jon Court on Long Range Toddy also claimed foul?” 

In the previous 144 editions of the Kentucky Derby, stewards have adjudicated the Derby in a different manner than what would be the norm on a third race on a Thursday. The Derby has always been adjudicated in a “Let them decide the winner on the track” manner. 

When it was announced that Maximum Security had been disqualified and placed 17th behind Long Range Toddy, fans were stunned. Owners Gary and Mary West respectfully asked to speak to the stewards to see the films and review their decision. They were denied and told that they could join in the film review with the jockeys involved on the next racing day, which is Thursday. 

The state of Kentucky only gives owners a 48-hour window to appeal a steward’s decision, however. The Wests appealed Monday and were denied since “incidents during the running of the race are not appealable” according to Marc Guilfoil, the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing commission. The case will likely be forced to go to a Federal court to be heard.  The outcome could take months, even years to adjudicate.

Gary West said Monday morning on the Today show on NBC that they will not run Maximum Security in the Preakness. 

“With no Triple Crown on the line, there is no reason to run Maximum Security back in two weeks,” he said. Servis has yet to make a comment since Maximum Security was disqualified. 

In the end, the stewards likely got the call right. But the process they took to get there and the lack of transparency to the public and the media could have damaged public faith in the integrity of horse racing. 

Based on this new precedent, also look for inquiries and claims of foul to become a regular part of the Run for the Roses in future Derbies. 

Country House out

Ther will not be a Triple Crown winner this year as Country House will not run in the May 18 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. 

Improbable, who will have a new rider in Mike Smith, War of Will and Bodexpress are expected to go from the Derby to the Preakness. They will likely be joined by several new shooters including Alwaysmining, Anothertwistafate 

Bourbon War, Laughing Fox,Mr. Money, Owendale,Signalman and Sueno are also probable for. the Preakness.

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita, Friday Race 6 – Lostintranzlation (No. 8). Hot Richard Baltas stable was forced to race this mare vs. the boys April 7 when races for fillies and mares did not fill. She ran too good to lose, being beaten a nose that day and now gets to face her own sex. 

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About the Author

Jon Lindo

Jon Lindo is a syndicated handicapper, long-time thoroughbred owner, and publisher of the Lindo Report. Jon is also a regular contributor to Race Day Las Vegas Radio show on KSHP 1400 in Las Vegas and Thoroughbred Los Angeles Radio show, heard in Las Vegas at thoroughbredla.com.

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