As Maximum Security went across the finish line, my hands went up in the air as I whooped for joy. I had picked the winner of the Kentucky Derby for the fifth time in seven years.
I received congratulations from people at my Derby party as I waited for the stewards to make it official.
And I waited. And waited.
I watched replays showing Maximum Security cutting in front of War of Will, impeding his progress, and my heart fell. I had a feeling this wouldn’t end well. But surely they wouldn’t reverse the results of a Kentucky Derby. That had happened only once before, in 1968, and that was because of a failed drug test, not a rules infraction on the course.
My mind started to rationalize the infraction. How many bumps happen on the first furlong, when horses are all bunched together trying to get in good position? How many collisions are there on the backstretch, when jockeys are trying to move their mounts in between horses? God, why are there 20 horses in the Derby?
When Country House was declared the winner, I was outraged. How could they take down the best horse (by far) in the race in favor of a second-rate horse who had one win in six starts and barely made it into the Derby?
I searched Twitter and Facebook for arguments for Maximum Security to remain the Derby champion. It was split right down the middle. That didn’t help, and like social media is prone to do, it only made me angrier.
Then I saw the slow-motion replays of Maximum Security almost clipping heels with War of Will, and War of Will averting a disaster by moving to the right, avoiding Maximum Security, and bumping several other horses in the process, including Country House. I saw close-ups of the legs of the two horses practically touching.
I knew then that I was beaten. I had no rationale for Maximum Security to remain the winner.
It doesn’t matter who made the objection. It doesn’t matter that previous Derbies may have had similar or worse infractions. In this case, no matter how painful it is, the stewards were right.
It’s sad, really. Maximum Security was on his way to immortality – he had led from start to finish – and then 100,000 drunk spectators in the infield roared, and the green colt shied away from them, moving several lanes over and right into War of Will’s path. Jockey Luis Saez tried to correct the move, but it was too late. He overcompensated and bumped into Code of Honor on the rail. Maximum Security was in for the fight of his life after roaming all over the course, but he came out on top, only to be denied the win.
Hats off to Country House, who did what he needed to do to take second and, by default, win the Kentucky Derby. No matter how bad it looks, he’s now the Derby winner.
The Derby winner with an asterisk.