Kentucky stewards describe reasoning behind disqualifying Maximum Security
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Moments after Maximum Security’s name was taken off the Churchill Downs big screen — and a few minutes after the 3-year-old colt crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby — his trainer, Jason Servis, stood in the mud and the muck with a look of shock on his face.
To win the Kentucky Derby and then have it taken away?
“Yeah, that’s tough,” he said with a wry grin. “It hasn’t hit me yet, but it will.”
Maximum Security broke well out of the starting gate and led the Derby field down the backstretch and into the final turn, something that was fully expected of the front-running colt.
Then came the unexpected.
As the field turned back toward the Churchill Downs grandstand — and into view of the massive crowd it contained — Maximum Security drifted out and into the path of War of Will, who had to check hard. Country House was coming up on the outside of those horses and had to go even farther wide up the track entering the stretch.
From there, Maximum Security outran Country House, beating the 65-1 shot to the wire by about 2 lengths.
Servis said his cell phone was flooded with celebratory text messages and calls. Several minutes later, his phone was buzzing again. “Now they’re all texting me back: ‘Sorry. Sorry.’”
The Churchill Downs stewards determined that Maximum Security’s move in the final turn impeded the progress of three horses — War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress — and he was placed 17th in the field of 19, directly behind Long Range Toddy.
Servis, whose only previous Derby starter was an 11th-place finish with Firenze Fire last year, said he wanted to watch this race back before forming a full opinion on the decision.
“The only thing I saw was he dropped out a little,” he said. “With the crowd and stuff — it’s hard to say. He saw something and got scared. But I didn’t get to see it that well.”
Bill Mott, the trainer of Country House, agreed with what sparked the trouble in the turn. He said it wasn’t the fault of Maximum Security’s jockey, Luis Saez.
“I think the horse did this on his own,” Mott said. “I don’t think Luis Saez did anything intentionally. I think his horse was green. He’s an inexperienced horse — he’s only run three or four times. And he’s probably never seen anything like this before.”
Maximum Security had only four previous starts and didn’t make his racing debut until Dec. 20 of last year. He was also a May 14 foal — meaning he doesn’t technically turn 3 years old until later this month — and had only one previous start around two turns.
About half an hour after the race was over, Servis had made his way to Maximum Security’s box and was waiting to talk to the horse’s owners, Gary and Mary West.
“Right now, I’m kind of OK,” Servis said. “But I’m sure tomorrow I might not be.”
Lexington native Shug McGaughey’s colt, Code of Honor, crossed the finish line third was placed second as a result of the stewards’ decision. The 14-1 shot was on the rail a few lengths behind Maximum Security entering the final turn, and the incident that followed created a huge opening for him to run through as they hit the stretch.
Code of Honor briefly took the lead.
“We had a perfect trip. He was in a good position. He made his run,” he said. “He sort of got to the lead there and didn’t know what to do. Those horses sort of ran away from him again, and he came running again.”
Code of Honor, still on the inside, outlasted a group of horses coming up on the outside to cross the wire third.
Tacitus, Mott’s other horse in Saturday’s race, had some trouble in the opening moments and was in the back of the main pack — about 15th place — as the field entered the first turn. He worked his way through the crowd and found some room to run after turning wide in the stretch, then caught Improbable right at the wire to end up with a third-place finish.
Improbable, who went off as the 4-1 favorite, raced near the front and then had his path cut off by Maximum Security at the top of the stretch, leading him to swing wide. He followed Country House to the finish line and ended up fourth, best of the Bob Baffert-trained trio.
Game Winner — another Baffert trainee and the morning-line favorite — was 18th on the first run by the grandstand and went into the first turn ahead of just one horse: Master Fencer. He started passing horses in the backstretch but moved widest of everyone in the field around the far turn and entered the stretch several paths wide. He continued to pick off horses in the stretch and ended up fifth.
The Japenese-bred Master Fencer was 19th and last entering the stretch, moved straight to the rail under Julien Leparoux and finished strong, hitting the wire just a head behind Game Winner and about a half-length behind Tacitus and Improbable.
War of Will had no trouble coming out of the dreaded far inside post and settled a few lengths behind Maximum Security, tracking the pacesetter all the way to the final turn. The incident happened as he looked for running room to Maximum Security’s outside and his progress was badly impeded. He recovered quickly and entered the stretch on near-even terms with Maximum Security, Code of Honor and Country House. He was passed by four horses a few yards from the wire and ended up seventh.
Plus Que Parfait was right behind the four leaders coming into the stretch but never gained ground from there and ended up eighth.
Win Win Win was 17th entering the first turn, 18th entering the final turn and a wall of horses in front of him when trying to make his move there. He was ninth.
Cutting Humor (10th) and By My Standards (11th) never factored into the race. Blue Grass Stakes winner Vekoma raced near the leaders and was already being passed by horses before they came out of the final turn. He was 12th.
Bodexpress was running with Maximum Security and Long Range Toddy for the early stages and already appeared to be fading when he was knocked off stride as a result of the incident in the final turn before finishing 13th.
Tax (14th) and Roadster (15th) never factored into the race. Long Range Toddy (16th) was second for much of the race, and his chances ended when Maximum Security went wide in the final turn.
Long shots Spinoff (18th) and Gray Magician (19th) never factored into the race.
Order of finish
17. Maximum Security (DQ)