The Kentucky Derby Winner That Wasn’t

Sophia Vlahakis

The Kentucky Derby is referred to as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” but this year the suspense lasted for almost 25 minutes. In the 145th running, the rain poured and the track became so muddy that the biggest concern at the beginning of the race was whether or not the horses could run. The questionable conditions quickly became an afterthought as the focus turned to the chaos that arose after the race.

Maximum Security was a favorite to win the with 5/1 odds on that rainy day in Louisville, and for a brief moment, those who placed their bets on the thoroughbred were ecstatic, out of their seats as the colt made his way around the last turn of the muddy track. Well, those smiles quickly turned upside down as the results of the race were declared unofficial. The jockey, Luis Saez, stopped his celebrating, as did the horse’s owners and those who were watching at the track to those in the comfort of their own homes, remained silent. An event meant to only capture a fan’s interest for a couple minutes, was at the center of attention for over 20 minutes after the race ended. During the race, Maximum Security made contact with War of Will, interfered with Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress and bumping Code of Honor. Following the race, the jockey of Country House and Long Range Toddy filed an objection. After the race was reviewed, Maximum Security was declared disqualified. For the first time in 145 races, a horse was disqualified, so what happens next?

Maximum Security having been disqualified means his name will cease to exist among the list of of winners of this famed race. While those who watched the race will never forgot which horse crossed the finish line first, Country House was declared the winner. With 67/1 odds, he was running second and because of the disqualification was placed first. The reaction was controversial as one could assume. In a sport that already gains criticism for gambling and racing horses in unfavorable conditions, it wasn’t just the team behind Maximum Security that was not happy. In weeks following, there are debates about whether or not the call should have been made. However, despite the fact that Maximum Security was the fastest horse on that day, rules are put in place for a reason. There is no doubt that Maximum Security was fast, but in a sport where a horse can run so hard his heart could burst, jockeys have to control their horses. When 2o horses are running for over a mile on a track in the rain, the chance for injury is great,  and jockeys have to be aware of their surrounding even if that means slowing down for a stride. Not making the call to disqualify Maximum Security would be similar to not calling offensive pass interference on a wide receiver who makes a game winning touchdown catch, after shoving his defender to the ground, in the Super Bowl.

The outburst of reactions does not begin to explain the controversy that will be remembered for a long time. With no rightful chance at winning the Triple Crown, Maximum Security was pulled out by his owner, Gary West, from the Preakness.  Country House is sick and will also not run in the Preakness. This means that there is no chance for a Triple Crown winner in 2019, coming off one last year with Justify. Additionally, Maximum Security’s owners are angry and frustrated. Gary West has presented a $20 million challenge to the rival horses in the Kentucky Derby, including Country House, War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress. The race would not even be about which horse won, just which horse crossed the finish line before Maximum Security. West is offering to pay $5 million to any horse that finished ahead of his own. It is unlikely that this will actually happen, but it is demonstrative of the drama surrounding this infamous 2019 Kentucky Derby.

This race will go down in history and the question of who the true winner should have been will persist. It will be one of those moments in sports that even 50 years from now is still going to be debated, whether it is a friendly conversation between friends or in the New York Times. Looking back on horse racing in 2019, no one is going to recall who won the Preakness or the Belmont States, it will be all about the Kentucky Derby and how arguably America’s most contentious sport captured the attention of millions of people.