LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After a tense review period that lasted more than 20 minutes, after the apparent winning connections had already been interviewed on live television, the three stewards at Churchill Downs on Saturday made the difficult decision to disqualify Maximum Security for interfering with other horses around the final turn and gave the Kentucky Derby victory to the 65-1 shot Country House. In the 145-year history of the Derby, no other horse had lost a win for such an act.
An objection is a claim of foul lodged by a rider, a patrol judge or another racing official. The stewards, who oversee races for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and for Churchill Downs, got to work studying replays of the race, with millions of dollars riding on their decision. They analyzed every available angle of the race on screens in a tiny clubhouse office high above the racetrack.
This job has existed for ages in America’s oldest sport, essentially making stewards the pioneers of video review. Committed to protecting bettors, they stay out of sight and rarely speak to the news media, so it was an odd sight on Saturday when the stewards — Barbara Borden, chief steward of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission; Brooks A. Becraft, a state steward; and Tyler Picklesimer, a track steward — were on the podium usually reserved for the winners of America’s biggest horse race.
Borden read a statement explaining the decision. She declined to take any questions. (The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is a state government agency charged with regulating the conduct of horse racing and parimutuel wagering on horse racing and related activities.)
She explained that the riders of No. 18, Long Range Toddy, and No. 20, Country House, had lodged complaints against Maximum Security, saying there had been interference as they left the quarter-pole and headed for home.
“We had a lengthy review of the race,” Borden said. “We interviewed affected riders.” She said the stewards had unanimously agreed that Maximum Security drifted out and affected the progress of No. 1, War of Will, in turn interfering with Long Range Toddy and No. 21, Bodexpress.
“Those horses were all affected, we thought, by the interference,” she said. “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.” That made Maximum Security the 17th-place finisher officially.
Country House became the first horse to win the Derby on an objection; Dancer’s Image was disqualified in 1968 after a post-race urinalysis found traces of a banned substance, and Forward Pass was declared the winner.
“If it were a maiden claiming race on a weekday, the winner would come down,” Country House’s trainer, Bill Mott, told NBC as he anxiously awaited the stewards’ decision with the 150,729 in attendance and the countless others watching at home.
Once in the winner’s circle, a smiling if a bit stunned Mott, a Hall of Famer, acknowledged it was an odd way to capture his first Derby win.
“We’ll just have to prove ourselves in the future,” he said.