Kentucky Derby controversy swirls as President Trump weighs in and owner plans appeal

Updated 6:36 AM EDT, Tue May 7, 2019
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 04: Jockey Flavien Prat celebrates atop of Country House #20 after winning the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 04, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 04: Jockey Flavien Prat celebrates atop of Country House #20 after winning the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 04, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
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Controversy is still swirling around the Kentucky Derby as the full ramifications of the demotion of Maximum Security continue to sink in.

The Jason Servis-trained colt crossed the line first in a soggy race Saturday, but was adjudged to have illegally impeded other horses during a feisty encounter.

Maximum Security was dropped to 17th place and Country House, at odds of 65-1, was elevated to champion, becoming the second biggest longshot ever to win the historic race.

Even US President Donald Trump weighed in, tweeting that the decision “was not a good one” and called it “political correctness,” while Gary West, the owner of Maximum Security, told NBC’s Today Show that his group will file an appeal later Monday with the state racing commission.

Backers of the horse to win were also ruing missing out on their share of the $42 million bet on the race with TwinSpires.com, the official wagering site of Churchill Downs. Of that total, 82.5 percent goes back to winning bettors.

The Derby is the first leg of the famous Triple Crown, which moves on to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore on May 18 before the final leg at Belmont Park, on Long Island on June 8.

Only 13 horses have won the Triple Crown, starting with Sir Barton in 1919, making it a highly sought-after prize. Even being able to put Kentucky Derby winner on a stallion’s resume greatly enhances future stud fees.

READ: Trainer O’Brien lands Guineas double at Newmarket

In the immediate aftermath of the race at Churchill Downs Saturday, chief steward Barbara Borden read a statement to the media, revealing all three stewards agreed to penalize Maximum Security based on interviews with jockeys and after reviewing video footage.

They ruled the horse veered wide on the final bend, impeding War of Will among others. Maximum Security’s jockey Luis Saez said the noise of the 150,729 fans unnerved the horse, but he quickly got him back under control.

According to the rules of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, stewards are responsible for “all findings of fact” and decisions “shall be final and not subject to appeal.”

West also told NBC that Maximum Security wouldn’t be running in the Preakness.

“I think there’s no Triple Crown on the line for us and there’s no reason to run a horse back in two weeks when you don’t have to,” he said.

It was the first time a Derby winner was disqualified because of a foul on the track. In 1968, Dancer’s Image won but failed a drug test and was disqualified.

President Trump tweeted Sunday: “The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one.

“It was a rough and tumble race on a wet and sloppy track, actually, a beautiful thing to watch.

“Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur. The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby — not even close!”

Horse racing announcer Mike Battaglia told CNN there was an “unwritten rule” in the sport that officials give riders and horses more leeway in the Kentucky Derby, but he backed stewards for sticking to the rules.

“You can’t erase the fact he [Maximum Security] did come over and hinder the other horses’ chances but the stewards were following the rules of racing. If you don’t follow the rules you harm the integrity of the whole sport.”

Country House’s trainer Bill Mott, who got his first Kentucky Derby win, said: “I know the stewards had a very, very difficult decision and I’m glad I wasn’t in their shoes.”

READ: How young Qatari sheikh shook up sport of kings

The outcry was no comfort for bettors who staked nearly $10 million on 9-2 second favorite Maximum Security to win, place or show, according to Ed DeRosa of TwinSpires.

One bettor thought they had won $44,000 from an $8,000 stake on Maximum Security before the disqualification, DeRosa told CNN.

Country House attracted just over $918,000 in bets. One lucky backer of the eventual winner scooped $165,500 from a $2,500 stake.