Sports | May 5, 2019 10:41 am

Behind the Unprecedented Decision to Disqualify the Kentucky Derby’s Fastest Horse

It came down to a jump and a bump by Maximum Security

Jockeys fight for position during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Jockeys fight for position during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Something unprecedented happened at Churchill Downs on Saturday: the horse that finished first in the Kentucky Derby did not win. Instead, Country House, which trailed first-place Maximum Security by nearly two lengths at the end, was named the victor more than 20 minutes after crossing the finish line. The 4-1 favorite had been disqualified and the unlikely elevation of 65-1 Country House to victor gave it the second longest winning odds in the race’s 145-year history. The drama behind the disqualification was just as compelling as the race.

The disqualification originated from a split-second move by Maximum Security and its jockey, Luis Saenz with just a quarter mile left in the race. At that moment, the horse appeared to leap over a puddle on the wet, sloppy track, but in doing so, it also launched itself sideways into the path of several other horses—including Country House—that were scrambling for position down the stretch.

“All of this transpired in just more than a second,” SIwrites. “But it was a moment fraught with danger in a year when horse racing suffered mightily from too much death (the 23 horses who died at Santa Anita between Dec. 24 and March 31).”

But as soon as the race ended, the jockeying over the potential foul by Maximum Security began, SI writes. “It is baffling that the stewards watched that rodeo and did not instantly initiate a stewards’ inquiry into the finish, which is standard practice when there might have been fouls. Also: For the stewards to refuse questions after changing the order of finish in the Kentucky Derby for the first time in history is a terrible look that will not age well.”